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Stadium security feud may be over

After months of bitter wrangling, the Tampa Sports Authority said Wednesday that it is close to resolving a years-long dispute with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over security costs at Raymond James Stadium.

TSA executive director Henry Saavedra said the Buccaneers have offered to split the cost of the controversial patdowns for Bucs games at the stadium and additional post-Sept. 11 security expenses.

The TSA's three-member executive committee voted Tuesday to recommend that the full board consider the football team's proposal to pay up to 50 percent of the cost of patdowns, plus $3,500 per game or up to 35 percent of the cost of other extra security (whichever is less), he said.

The board has said the extra security has cost the authority roughly $10,000 a game, with the patdowns adding another $7,500 on top of that.

Under the proposed terms, the Buccaneers would pay $60,000 to $70,000 in back payments for previous security costs, along with an additional $11,000 for three games in the most recent season where patdowns took place, said executive committee member Patrick Manteiga.

The full board is expected to discuss the proposal at its meeting Monday.

"We don't look at it as a settlement. We look at it as cooperation," said Manteiga.

A majority vote in favor of the deal next week could mark a rare moment of detente between the TSA and the Bucs, potentially ending three years of contentious negotiations over security expenses.

In the past, the authority has said that increased security costs have taken a big bite out of its $12-million operating budget. The TSA estimated it has spent $430,000 more over the past five seasons than what it had historically paid for stadium security under the Bucs' 1996 lease agreement with the authority.

The friction intensified last season when the National Football League ordered mandatory patdowns. Both the TSA and the Bucs balked at paying the $7,500-per-game cost.

In December, TSA board members voted 9-1 to sue the Bucs for the cost of extra policing at the stadium.

As part of the vote, however, the board left the door open for negotiations, setting a Jan. 18 deadline for filing the lawsuit.

Bucs chief operating officer Eric Land lauded the TSA for giving his organization additional time to address the impasse and research the issue, saying that was key in determining the Bucs' decision to foot part of the bill.

"They were wonderful about it, and it gave us a chance to go back and study some of the security costs that had been incurred post 9/11," Land said.

Under the proposal before the board, the primary responsibility for security operations would remain with the TSA, Land said.

But, he said, the Bucs have decided that paying a portion would be fair play after research showed that security costs have increased considerably since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"Clearly, additional security has been burdensome for all companies that require security post 9/11," Land said. "In this isolated case, the Buccaneers organization felt duty bound to come to the assistance of the TSA."

The potential pullback from the brink of one legal entanglement will have little or no effect on another legal brouhaha for the TSA.

In October, Valrico schoolteacher and Bucs season ticket holder Gordon Johnston sued the Sports Authority, saying the patdowns were unconstitutional.

TSA officials said Wednesday that the authority's attorneys are still litigating the issue in court.

Manteiga, who voted against patdowns last year, said he still personally opposes the searches. But he said he is in favor of forging an agreement on security costs and views it as an important step in thawing relations between the Bucs and the TSA.

"They came to us with their concerns. We came to them with our concerns," Manteiga said.

"I think it marks a new day in the relationship between the TSA and the Buccaneers," he said.

Candace Rondeaux can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or rondeaux@spttmes.com.

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