TAMPA — Nearly $12 million in tax money set aside years ago for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice center can go to local governments, the board that oversees Raymond James Stadium agreed Wednesday.
The unanimous decision comes nearly two months after Hillsborough County commissioners voted to ask for some of the money to help pay for park expansions and other projects delayed by five years because of falling tax receipts.
The rationale: The team hasn't claimed the money after 16 years, and local government can use it to meet pressing needs now.
"We've reduced the county's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars," said County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, a member of the Tampa Sports Authority who has pushed to reclaim the money. "With hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded needs, we simply could not afford to leave (that money) in abeyance for years and years."
One authority board member was absent for the 10-0 vote.
"We're surely disappointed by this development," Bucs vice president for business administration Brian Ford said in a statement. "However, we remain confident that we will be able to work through this issue with the TSA."
A day earlier, Ford penned a letter saying the team would consider a transfer of the money a breach of its contract with the authority.
The money was set aside in 1996 when Hillsborough voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for 30 years to pay for roads, schools and other public amenities, as well as construction of Raymond James Stadium for the Buccaneers. The deal included $12 million for a Bucs practice center to replace the complex of trailers near Tampa International Airport the team used.
Under terms of the deal, the Bucs could claim the money when the practice center was built, and after the team agreed to turn over its ownership to the Sports Authority.
The team has built a gleaming new training complex and headquarters on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for an amount believed to far exceed the set aside. They have so far declined to turn the complex over to the authority, and at times have said they may yet build a separate practice facility that would be turned.
In his letter Tuesday, Ford underscored a portion of the agreement that says if any money is left over after construction of practice facilities, it can be used by the team for fan enhancements at the stadium. So he argues that the county cannot take the money.
The Sports Authority's general counsel said the team cannot stake a claim to leftover money if it doesn't complete construction of a practice center and also turn it over the government agency.
Under terms of the resolution passed Wednesday, the authority can request the money back from local governments that take it if the team eventually turns the existing training facility over to the authority.
"That, of course, has not happened," said Steve Anderson, the general counsel.
The team has previously made a claim for some of the money to pay for scouting and do initial designs for a practice area. About $11.6 million remains of the original allotment, and the Sports Authority through the years has used interest from the pool to help offset other costs.
Money from the sales tax is allotted to local governments based on a population formula, and the county's portion would be about $8.5 million. To get the money, the county would have to agree to return it if the Bucs meet their obligations under the original agreement.
So far, the city of Tampa, one of the other potential beneficiaries, has not made a claim to a share, though its attorneys helped craft Wednesday's resolution.