TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are objecting to a plan by local government to spend nearly $12 million in tax money initially set aside to pay for a new practice area for the football team.
The Bucs notified the Tampa Sports Authority on Tuesday that they will consider any transfer of the money — which the authority will consider today — a breach of their stadium agreement.
While the team has built a new practice center on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, it has made no claim for reimbursement from tax money. Absent that, the money should go to upgrades within Raymond James Stadium, it says.
"Our agreement clearly states that any unused money is to be used to make improvements at Raymond James Stadium to better the fan experience," said Brian Ford, vice president of business administration.
The stadium agreement, crafted 16 years ago and spelling out terms of construction and operation of Raymond James with sales tax money, says the team is entitled to reimbursement for up to $12 million for a new practice center. But the team also is supposed to turn over ownership of the practice center to the Sports Authority, which it has not done.
Had it done so, the agreement does state that any leftover money can be spent on enhancements inside Raymond James.
Steve Anderson, general counsel for the Sports Authority, said the team is welcome to turn over the practice center to his agency and make a claim for the money. Until that time, they cannot.
"The initial condition for those funds has not happened, so there can be no excess funds," he said.
This summer, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill proposed reclaiming the county's portion of the money set aside for a practice center for things that benefit the broader public, but have been on hold during the recession. They include expansions of recreation centers for children and safety enhancements at intersections.
Commissioners voted in favor of the plan, though the budget will not be finalized until next month.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.