. . . In summary, this court finds that the new stadium project would serve a paramount public purpose, if not for the fact that the lease of the new stadium to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers grants the Buccaneers the first $2-million in net annual revenues from non-Buccaneer events. Consequently, this court finds the stadium project to serve a predominantly private purpose and consequently cannot validate the bonds sought to be issued by TSA.
Public purpose _
7. The court was presented with conflicting testimony regarding the economic impact on the local economy of the Buccaneers, a Super Bowl and the new stadium construction project itself. Expert witnesses employed by plaintiffs testified that the Buccaneers provide an annual economic benefit to the Tampa Bay economy ranging from a high of $183-million to a low of $83-million and that the Super Bowl scheduled to be held in the new stadium in 2001 can be expected to yield an economic benefit in excess of $300-million. Even using the more conservative forecasts, over the 30-year life of the stadium agreement these benefits are expected to total $3-billion before any adjustments for future inflation. In contrast, experts employed by Poe testified that neither the Buccaneers nor a Super Bowl provide any measurable economic benefit to the local economy. However, none of Poe's experts were able to present financial data that directly contradicted the data relied on by plaintiffs' experts in compiling their economic forecasts. After weighing the testimony, the court finds that the forecasts presented by plaintiffs' experts were more credible. Although economic forecasting is not a precise science, the court is of the opinion that the local community will realize substantial economic benefits from the continued presence of the Buccaneers and from hosting the 2001 Super Bowl and that over time these benefits can be expected to far exceed the cost of the new stadium.
Public purpose _
8. The court heard credible testimony from the mayor of Tampa, the Hillsborough County administrator, the president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and others regarding the immeasurable economic benefits realized as a result of national media exposure in newspapers and from televised Buccaneer games and Super Bowls, including the value of such exposure in helping to attract tourists and businesses to the Tampa Bay area. Several witnesses testified that without an NFL team the community would find it more difficult to compete with other cities for new business. . . .
+ + +
20. This court finds most significant the fact that under the stadium agreement, the Buccaneers would receive the first $2-million per year from non-Buccaneer events (such as college football games, soccer games, tractor pulls and concerts) at the new stadium, net of direct costs to be reimbursed to TSA. According to the testimony of TSA employee Henry Saavedra, the net annual revenue from non-Buccaneer events will not exceed $2-million for three to five years. Consequently, during that period of time, TSA will receive none of the net revenue from non-Buccaneer events. Over the entire period of the stadium agreement, the majority of the net revenue from non-Buccaneer events at the now stadium will accrue, not to the TSA, the public body which owns the stadium, but to a private business, the Buccaneers, which does not even conduct those events. For this reason only, the paramount public purpose of the project is defeated.
21. The revenues the TSA will receive from the new stadium will not be enough to cover the operation and maintenance expenses. Furthermore, this court notes that the expenditures which TSA is required to make for operation and maintenance of the new stadium will increase each year due to inflation. According to witness Saavedra, the total operations and maintenance deficit over the lease period is estimated at $24-million. Such deficit would have to be paid for by the taxpayers _ two-thirds by the county and one-third by the city. The fact that such a burden will be imposed upon the taxpayers further reduces the possibility that this project could be deemed to serve a paramount public purpose.
22. Although this court recognizes that the sales tax increase which would partially finance the new stadium was approved by the voters of Hillsborough County in a referendum, there are three reasons why this court does not believe this fact to be dispositive in favor of plaintiffs. First, it is impossible to know to what extent voters cast their ballots on the tax issue based on their feelings about the stadium and to what extent they voted based on the other infrastructure projects to be financed by the sales tax. Second, the aspects of the project which prevent it from serving a paramount public purpose are distinct from the sales tax increase and were not submitted to the voters. Third, and most important, the plaintiffs may not violate the Florida Constitution whether or not they conduct a referendum.
23. It is hereby adjudged that:
A. The complaint of TSA, the county, and the city to validate the bonds to finance the cost of the acquisition, construction, operation and equipping of the new stadium and related facilities and improvements, including, but not limited to, the practice facility and the demolition of the existing stadium, is DENIED.
B. The amended complaint of Poe is GRANTED to the extent that this court declares that the stadium project as currently constituted does not serve a paramount public purpose and violates Article VII, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution.
The complete transcript
For a full transcript of the judge's ruling go to the Times' World Wide Web site at: http://www.sptimes.com/transcript. To discuss the ruling, visit our news forum page at http://www.sptimes.com/Guestbooks/ NewsForums.html