TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning officials detailed $35 million in renovations to the St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday, saying the upgrades will improve the fan experience and continue to attract other events to the arena.
Team executive Tod Leiweke said the Lightning will pay for the work upfront and seek partial reimbursement from Hillsborough County tourist taxes. He said the renovations come without condition and will continue even if the county doesn't come up with the cash. In previous interviews, a majority of county commissioners said they are receptive to helping pay for the work.
Most of Wednesday's news conference focused on snazzy new features at the arena. One of the most prominent is an 11,000-square-foot outdoor party deck with a view of downtown. The deck will feature 10 areas where fans can buy food and drink (team owner Jeff Vinik confirmed margaritas will be served) and a small stage for postgame events.
Also included is an indoor stage and bar with an old-time pipe organ carved into the arena's upper section. To make room, the team will remove 574 seats currently located behind the stage during concerts at the Forum.
Another feature is a large lightning bolt that will light up during player introductions and when the home team scores. Officials are still developing the "signature lighting element" with the engineering department at the University of South Florida, Leiweke said.
Most features will be in place by next season, though an upgraded west entrance could take a bit longer.
The county-owned Forum was built for the Lightning in 1996. The St. Petersburg Times bought the naming rights in 2002.
A final public financing agreement is still several years away, Leiweke said. "We're going to say to the county, 'When and if the tourism tax recovers, help support this building,' " he said.
Under an early proposal discussed by the team and the county, a 2006 pledge of tourist tax money through 2021 would be extended and increased. Current annual payments of $2 million would be bumped to $2.5 million in 2015, with the contract extended to 2027. That would boost the original pledge from $35 million to $48.5 million.
The work also includes less flashy elements such as replacing the arena's heating and cooling system, upgrading lighting and installing all new seats. Concourses, suites and the locker room also will get a facelift. Eight suites will be removed to give better views of the game for fans walking on the concourse.
Leiweke said pricing has not been set for next season, but dismissed concerns that the upgrades are a "ploy to achieve some double-digit price increase." He said the goal is to encourage sellouts and that future prices would be fan friendly.
Lee Logan can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.