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Tampa's sports future mapped

A $110-million plan addressing and defining the sports goals of Hillsborough County _ including the construction of a hockey arena _ gained enthusiastic support Tuesday from members of the Tampa Sports Authority.

The authority's executive committee unanimously endorsed a proposal that calls for:

$25-million to help pay for an arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning and possibly an NBA franchise, either on authority-owned land adjacent to Tampa Stadium or somewhere in Hillsborough County.

$15-million for a spring training complex for the New York Yankees, including a 10,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium and two smaller fields, one of which would serve as the home for the Hillsborough Community College team.

$10-million for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility.

$50-million to $60-million for major renovations to Tampa Stadium, to be done during the next decade.

"It puts the entire sports plan out in front of everybody," said Sports Authority Chairman Michael Fogarty.

All of this, however, is a long way from fruition. Executive committee members barely mentioned financing Tuesday, and it is clear the project would require a major bond issue or even a short-term sales tax increase.

"Most anything we would do to generate that kind of money would take a tremendous amount of public consensus," Fogarty said.

Hillsborough County Administrator Fred Karl will present the plan to the County Commission today, and the full Sports Authority is expected to vote on it Monday. If all parties approve, the authority will begin exploring financing options.

"I think the money's out there," said Rick Nafe, the authority's executive director and the author of the plan. "This authority and this community have to get proactive. The alternative is totally unacceptable."

First and foremost, Nafe said, the authority must spearhead the local effort to aid the Lightning. Phil Esposito, the Lightning's president, said Tuesday the team might not announce its choice for a permanent location until September.

"The worst thing we can do is not concentrate on the arena," Nafe said. If the Lightning leave the Tampa Bay area, "I think it's got to hurt our baseball effort."

He warned that inaction not only could cost a major-league expansion team, but also will send the Yankees, among the most prestigious professional sports franchises, to Orlando or keep them in Fort Lauderdale.

"This plan meets 100 percent of our criteria," said Joe Molloy, the Yankees' general partner. "We (he and principal Yankees owner George Steinbrenner) live here in this community. Our children go to the schools here. But we are going to take the best deal."

Molloy said the Yankees, who already have their minor-league operations on the south end of the sports authority's property near Tampa Stadium, must hear from the authority by June 30.

Architects would need six months to design the complex, which includes a pedestrian walkway over Dale Mabry Highway just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Construction would take about a year, meeting the team's target of January 1995, Molloy said. A state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services regional office and a juvenile detention facility that sits on the proposed site would have to be moved.

Besides injecting an estimated $18-million to $21-million annually into the local economy, the Yankees spring training center would add as many as 2,000 parking spaces. Those could be used for functions at Tampa Stadium and at the proposed arena.

Nafe said other parts of the plan will be good for the Buccaneers.

A proposed training complex for the team features two natural grass fields, one 50-yard artificial turf field, a 50,000 square foot building and parking for 100. When the team's lease expires in 2000, Nafe said, the Bucs will require that Tampa Stadium remain competitive with other facilities across the country.

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