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Revised stadium deal may be offered today

As officials met Monday evening to rescue the NFL stadium agreement that a judge labeled unconstitutional, one county commissioner described a potential solution that could be presented today.

County Commissioner Joe Chillura said he expected County Attorney Emmy Acton to recommend a revised stadium agreement that would split non-football revenue 50-50 between the public and the Bucs.

Based on his talks with team officials, Chillura said he was "very optimistic" the team would approve the deal. Chillura thought that Circuit Judge Sam Pendino would approve it, too.

Last Friday, Pendino said that a clause giving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the first $2-million of income from non-football events violated the public nature of a taxpayer-financed stadium.

The ruling was a victory for former Tampa mayor Bill Poe, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making the legal argument that the new stadium represented an illegal subsidy for a private corporation.

Chillura said a hearing before Pendino could take place as soon as today _ shortly after commissioners receive an update from County Attorney Acton at 9 a.m.

The judge has offered the county hearing times on Tuesday and Wednesday, Chillura said. The timing is crucial, because the county's only other avenue of appeal, to the Florida Supreme Court, closes at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

"The judge, I think, will gladly have us back," Chillura said, referring to a comment Pendino made Friday that he liked to see parties in his courtroom "resolve their differences."

The county can expect a fight from Poe's lawyers, who said the county and city waived their right to revisit Pendino, in an agreement signed last December.

Over 30 years, the 50-50 split could cost the Bucs up to $30-million. But Chillura says that amount is small when compared with the hundreds of millions in other stadium revenues the team would receive over the same period.

If the only alternative to renegotiating is leaving, some hefty extra charges would kick in. The Bucs would owe the NFL a relocation fee that now stands at an estimated $39-million. The Bucs also would owe the trust of the former owner, the late Hugh Culverhouse Sr., a reported $35-million payment.

The plan detailed by Chillura was one of several discussed Monday. Other officials were less specific in what they said of the talks.

County Administrator Dan Kleman said returning from an evening meeting that "a variety of options are still under consideration."

Mayor Dick Greco emerged from a late afternoon meeting saying "it's a complicated case, ever changing, and there are no conclusions as of yet."

It appeared Monday that commissioners and their top staff members were of several minds about how to deal with the judge's ruling. Some wanted to work with him. Others want to cut a path around him.

In an interview Saturday, Acton said public officials had decided to seek a rehearing in front of Pendino and argue that the offending clause shouldn't be reason to throw out the entire agreement.

On Sunday, though, County Administrator Dan Kleman said officials had some more talking to do before they signed off on that plan.

County Commissioner Ed Turanchik argued a different tack Monday, saying that government should move ahead and build the community stadium voters approved as part of the sales tax package last fall.

"There was a vote last fall and no judge can invalidate it," Turanchik said. "We are not going to turn this into a lottery through the court system that puts democracy on its head, and puts the views of an eccentric old man ahead of the views of the people. That's not how this country was designed to operate."

Turanchik says building a new community stadium for all local teams but the Bucs works as an alternative to judicial activism.

"What I'm saying is no judge or court can interfere with the vote of the people to build a community stadium. Once you remove the private lease, it's not any different from building a library."

Turanchik said the new stadium would be built without club seats or luxury boxes. Those might be added later, Turanchik said, if the funding agreement were made legal _ and the Bucs were still in town.