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TSA endorses costly sports plan

The future of professional sports in Hillsborough depends on persuading the public to spend up to $110-million on facilities.

It won't be an easy sell, Tampa Sports Authority members said Monday as they unanimously endorsed a plan to accommodate football, hockey, baseball and maybe even basketball.

"We don't have general public support," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sylvia Kimbell.

"This community has to decide whether we're going to support the facilities that make us a world-class sports community or not," Kimbell said.

The Sports Authority's job is to plan and run sports facilities. Paying for them is another matter.

The commission authorized County Administrator Fred Karl to explore ways to pay for such a plan, which includes about $25-million to help build an arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Kimbell said Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace should be asked to help.

Sports Authority Chairman Michael Fogarty said the first priority of the plan is to help the Lightning find a home. An arena also could house a future NBA franchise, authority Executive Director Rick Nafe said.

The biggest part of the plan is designed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The plan calls for a $10-million training camp for the Bucs and $50-million to $60-million in improvements to Tampa Stadium.

The Bucs' lease at the stadium expires in seven years, but Nafe said it will be cheaper to raise the money now and get the team committed than to wait.

Unless the improvements are made, the area could lose the Bucs, Nafe said. The Bucs have no comment on the plan, said spokesman Jim Overton.

The remaining $15-million would be used to build a spring training facility for the New York Yankees. The team wants to consolidate its minor-league operations, now based near Tampa Stadium, with its spring training complex and Class A minor-league club, both of which are now in Fort Lauderdale.

None of the teams have had detailed discussions about the plan with Sports Authority officials, Nafe said. The plan, he said, "was intended to start a dialogue not only with the public but also with the franchise owners."

It's not set in stone, he said. If the plan complicates the Lightning's arena negotiations, "that part can be jettisoned," Nafe said. "It's like Mr. Potato Head _ you can take one piece out and put another in."

Lightning makes inquiries at Dome

ST. PETERSBURG _ It's still a mystery where the Tampa Bay Lightning will play next season, but as recently as Thursday a Lightning official toured the Florida Suncoast Dome to discuss operational issues.

Robert Leighton, St. Petersburg's downtown facilities director, said Lightning executive vice president Mel Lowell toured the Dome on Thursday and asked if refrigeration pipes for an ice rink could be buried in the Dome floor.

"We just kind of walked around," Leighton said. "There were a lot of ifs and what ifs. I think what they're trying to do is see whether it's feasible."

A trench 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep would have to be dug in the concrete floor, Leighton said. The city is looking into the project cost and the time it would take to accomplish, Leighton said.

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