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Legal fallout won't put squeeze on Tropicana Field

Whoever prevails in the legal battle over financing of a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the dispute won't be spilling onto Tropicana Field.

At least, that's the assessment of St. Petersburg City Attorney Michael S. Davis and Pinellas County Attorney Susan Churuti, the lawyers who shepherded the financing package for the publicly owned domed stadium.

"I don't think this has any effect on our deal," Davis said of Hillsborough Circuit Judge Sam Pendino's ruling Friday.

That's true for several reasons, both Davis and Churuti said.

While Tropicana Field clearly has its detractors among local taxpayers, its financing package and lease agreement with baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays are structurally different on several key points.

Former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe challenged the Bucs deal as part of the bond-financing validation, a routine but important legal proceeding. It guarantees to bond purchasers that the bonds will be protected from future legal challenges.

Poe made his challenge at just the right time, as the validation was under way before Pendino.

The bonds sold in the mid-1980s and 1995 to help finance the St. Petersburg stadium also were reviewed in validation hearings before judges. They survived the legal scrutiny. Further, state law makes it clear that once the bonds pass legal muster, that's it _ forever. No more legal challenges.

Second, the legal frameworks used to finance the St. Petersburg and the Tampa stadiums are quite different.

The state law Hillsborough is relying on to finance the Bucs' stadium is the same one Pinellas has used to finance its Penny for Pinellas program, which has helped pay for the Pinellas Trail, new bridges and parks.

But for Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg and Pinellas used two other financing methods, both developed by the state Legislature to target projects like stadiums.

The first, used by Pinellas, is the tourist-development tax. The tax, raised from overnight stays, has been used to pay for beach renourishment and tourist advertising as well as the stadium.

The second, used by St. Petersburg, was created specifically to funnel state sales-tax receipts generated by big-league stadiums back into the stadiums themselves. Pro football, baseball and hockey facilities around the state are being financed this way.