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Lightning's lease clause a surprise

The Tampa Bay Lightning wants the Florida Suncoast Dome to ensure quality ice for an entire 40-game season, even if that means upgrading or replacing the current portable ice system.

Taxpayers could be left picking up the million dollar tab if, in the most extreme case, a permanent system is required.

The Lightning's draft of a lease agreement with the city of St. Petersburg includes a provision that states the Dome may be required to convert the portable system into a permanent rink, if the Lightning decides it is necessary. However, Lightning officials said all that may be needed is a simple upgrading of the portable system.

A permanent rink would cost between $500,000 and $700,000, and that doesn't include installation costs.

"It was a surprise," Dome general manager Jerry Oliver said of the clause.

Oliver said St. Petersburg's lawyers have been reviewing the draft lease. He said the Dome's representatives expect to meet with the Lightning early next week.

Oliver said there never was discussion about a permanent ice rink during negotiations. There was no mention of a permanent rink in the memorandum of agreement that was signed Jan. 9 by both the Lightning and city of St. Petersburg (which owns the Dome). The memorandum is an outline of the business points to be included in the lease.

David LeFevre, council and governor of the Lightning, said that the provision was added to ensure that "whatever has to be done to have excellent ice, will be done."

LeFevre said the current system would likely need only enhancements. "We're not asking them to put in a system that will be making ice 30 years from now.

"That would be a whopping cost."

In addition to the price of the ice system, there would be the cost of digging up the Dome floor to put in the system. The total cost could be more than a million dollars, industry experts say.

Marc Ganis, executive vice president of Tampa Coliseum (the planned permanent home of the Lightning), said the permanent ice system for the Coliseum will cost more than a million.

Oliver said he isn't sure the Dome can accommodate a permanent system.

"With the utility floor boxes in there, it's probably not feasible," he said.

The major difference between portable and permanent ice systems is the diameter of the 10 miles of coils through which the refrigerant runs. Less refrigerant can run through the coils of portable systems, so they can't handle rises in temperature as quickly as a permanent system.

Of the three exhibition hockey games played in the Dome, one was canceled because of unplayable ice. The other two games were played, but the ice was soft.

If a more permanent system needs to be put in place, the Dome also could lose potential revenue from concerts. Under the memorandum of agreement, the Dome would have been allowed to take down the portable system twice during the season for major concerts. The permanent system cannot be removed during the season.

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