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Tampa hockey group plans new joint effort

The Tampa Bay Hockey Group is expected to announce today that it is joining forces with the Tampa Bay Baseball Group to finance construction of a proposed $90-million hockey arena adjacent to Tampa Stadium. Ed McGinty, a member of the baseball group, said Wednesday night following a meeting with the Tampa Sports Authority, however, that "a lot of things have yet to be done before we can say, "Yeah, we're going to be doing it,'

" and suggested that the timing of today's news conference might be related to the visit of National Hockey League executives touring potential expansion sites.

The Tampa Bay Hockey Group (TBHG) is competing with Florida Hockey Ltd. for a Tampa Bay-area NHL team. Florida Hockey Ltd. would put its team in the Florida Suncoast Dome. Members of the NHL's expansion committee are scheduled to tour the Dome, the proposed Tampa site and the Miami Arena (also seeking an expansion franchise) today.

"I think they (the TBHG) feel they need to make an announcement about the progress of their efforts," McGinty said.

Mel Lowell, treasurer and director of the TBHG, said Wednes

day that Spectacor Management Group would no longer be involved in construction of the proposed arena but was "in the process of turning over their development rights to a local Tampa construction and investment group."

Lowell declined to name the group, except to say that "it has to do with the baseball group that has the rights to the property," the old Al Lopez Field site owned by the Tampa Sports Authority.

Steven Greenburg, a Spectacor vice president, said definitely that the "Tampa Bay Hockey Group is joining forces with the baseball group that was planning to develop the stadium on the Dale Mabry (Boulevard) site."

And Joe Zalupski, executive director of the sports authority, said the TSA had met Wednesday night with members of the Tampa Bay Baseball Group (TBBG) who "proposed to be developers of the hockey arena project."

TBBG members attending were McGinty, the corporate secretary, along with president Jim Cusack and chief executive officer Garry Smith. "We haven't had an official meeting yet with the sports authority," McGinty said. "That will come next week. So officially, nothing is official yet."

Cusack was quoted later on a Ch. 13 news report as saying he and the William Mack family will "possibly be involved." Mack, a New Jersey developer, had been involved with Tampa businessman Frank Morsani in efforts to bring baseball to the bay area, but recently ended that involvement.

In the 1980s, the TBBG, then headed by Morsani, hoped to win a major-league expansion franchise or to buy an existing team and, if it got one, planned to build a baseball stadium at the Dale Mabry site. With the building of the Dome, though, the TBBG abandoned its plans for a baseball facility in Tampa and joined forces with St. Petersburg to secure a baseball team.

The TBBG still has the rights to the TSA land and still has the capability to sell tax-exempt industrial-revenue bonds to build a "coliseum." The legal language covering the bonds does not specify that it be a baseball facility. The Suncoast Dome similarly was built with tax-exempt bonds.

The law was changed in 1986, eliminating the tax exemption, but the TBBG can still sell tax-exempt bonds under a transitional rule that expires at the end of 1990. Because a number of similar projects were underway around the country when the law was changed, the transitional rule was established to allow them to go forward. The bonds for the Tampa facility must be issued by Dec. 31.

"They (the hockey group) could take the industrial-revenue bonds that we got for our (baseball) facility and issue them to build a hockey coliseum at the TSA property," said Morsani, no longer a member of the Tampa baseball group.