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L.A. casts a covetous eye

For more than a decade, baseball teams used the Tampa Bay area as a bargaining chip to secure lucrative stadium deals in their hometowns.

Now, with Raiders owner Al Davis signing a letter of intent to bring his team back to Oakland, the roles have been reversed for Tampa Bay. Los Angeles is the city desperate to get a franchise and the Bucs are the team that could use the nation's No. 2 television market as leverage to get financing for a new stadium.

Certainly Cincinnati and Cleveland have been paying attention. In Cincinnati, Hamilton County officials are proposing a 1-cent sales tax increase to finance new stadiums for the Bengals and Reds, and a Cleveland task force has reached a consensus on how to pay for renovations at Cleveland Stadium.

"What's going to happen to L.A. is just what happened to Jacksonville many years ago and we saw it in St. Petersburg in baseball," Bucs general manager Richard McKay said Friday. "They are now the No. 1 (city) that will be used by certain teams in negotiating their new stadium deals.

"That's a fact of life. In one sense, that hasn't changed in 20 years, it's just that in this case it's L.A."

McKay, however, stopped short of saying the Raiders' move strengthens the chances of a new stadium being built for the Bucs. Prospective Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer has said the team needs an improved facility _ with more leg room, revenue-producing club seating and more luxury suites _ to defray the record $192-million he agreed to pay for the franchise.

McKay said the Raiders' relocation shouldn't heighten the drive to build a new stadium because it's already progressing favorably.

"Does it make it more critical, is it now more on the front burner?" McKay said. "I hope not, because I hope it's been that way all along. I'm sure it will bring to people's attention again this is an important issue we need to deal with, and we will.

"I'm actually very happy with what's happened in the last month in respect to the stadium. I think we've made some progress, I think we've explored a lot of options, and we gotta keep working at it."

The new stadium, estimated by architects to cost $168.1-million, is expected to be financed with private and public funds.

This week, the Tampa Sports Authority began exploring the potential of permanent seat licenses _ a one-time fee fans pay to buy the exclusive rights to season tickets for a particular seat.

The remainder will have to come from a public that may be unwilling to endure higher taxes to finance a stadium.

"It's been framed by a lot of people is it schools or is it a stadium," McKay said. "Heck, we'd all pick schools, that's not a hard selection. We know these are hard choices and hard decisions, we've just gotta figure out a way to get it done."

When asked if a failure to build a new stadium would make the Bucs vulnerable to move, McKay chose his words carefully.

"I don't know what the word "vulnerable' means," McKay said, "but I think they (the Glazers) have made it clear as far as their long-term financial stability based on the price they paid, a price that was necessary to keep this team in Tampa, they need to get to the new stadium frontier, and that's what we're trying to do."

The other teams considered likely candidates to move _ the Browns, Bengals and Seahawks _ are being wooed by local officials.

Renovations at Cleveland Stadium would be financed by a combination of city, county and state taxes, revenue from a new club seating section, selling the naming rights of the stadium and from $10-million in cash from the team.

In Cincinnati, "critical details remain to be worked out with the city," the team said in a prepared statement.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, appear committed to working with city and county officials to remain in Seattle. They have asked that $120-million in repairs and renovations be done to the Kingdome.

"(The Raiders' plans) do not affect us," Seahawks president David Behring said.

And then there's Arizona, where mercurial owner Bill Bidwill claims that the management at Sun Devil Stadium has reneged on improvements and that Phoenix has stalled proposals to build a new domed stadium. He says he can sever his lease with Arizona State with 18 months notice.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.