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Tampa City Council approves $100M Ray Jay renovation deal

Tampa council member Charlie Miranda wore all black Thursday in symbolic opposition to the Raymond James Stadium plan.
Tampa council member Charlie Miranda wore all black Thursday in symbolic opposition to the Raymond James Stadium plan.
Published Dec. 18, 2015

TAMPA — A $100 million deal to pay for renovations the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want at Raymond James Stadium cleared its third and final hurdle at the City Council on Thursday.

The council's 6-1 vote set the stage for a stadium construction project expected to start after a monster truck rally in early February and be completed before the Bucs' 2017 season.

Most council members welcomed the deal as one that would increase the public's share of stadium revenues from non-Bucs events and, over time, reduce the city's obligation to subsidize stadium operations, a commitment that this year cost the city $735,000.

"The very best that we could get," council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said of the agreement, which was approved earlier this week by the Tampa Sports Authority and Hillsborough County Commission.

But Charlie Miranda, the lone dissenting vote, said public funds going into the deal would be better spent building affordable housing or helping children in need, not enriching wealthy professional sports team owners at the expense of taxpayers.

"This is a bad deal for the public," said Miranda, who underscored his opposition by bringing back the all-black outfit — black suit, black shirt, black tie — that he wore to mourn "the burial of the taxpayer" during the 1996 debate about building the stadium.

"I'm not against football," Miranda said. "But it's time this country — not Tampa, but this country — understands that you're being robbed, not with a gun, but with a pen."

Other council members said opting out of the deal would have left Tampa worse off, stuck with the obligations of the 1996 construction agreement for the stadium, but left out of the benefits negotiated as part of the new deal.

"I really feel that the city is better off with it than we would be without it," council member Harry Cohen said.

The renovations will include bigger and better scoreboards, four new video displays, updated sound systems and concessions, and improvements to the concourse and luxury suites. It will be paid for with:

• $29 million in local tourist tax revenues. That's about $3 million more than the Tampa Sports Authority had been obligated to spend on stadium improvements under the terms of the original 1996 construction agreement. City chief financial officer Sonya Little said, "No city of Tampa general fund monies will be used to fund this obligation."

• $58 million — a 2-to-1 match of the public funds — from the Bucs.

• $13 million beyond the matching funds that the Bucs say they plan to put into the renovations.

In exchange for the additional public funds, the Bucs have agreed to give the sports authority a bigger cut of the revenue from concerts and other non-Bucs events at the stadium. That could net the county $150,000 to $250,000 a year.

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The Bucs also have dropped a longstanding and disputed expectation that the county build the team a $12 million practice facility. Little said that should help the city's credit rating because City Hall will no longer be required to list the practice facility obligation as a liability.

Officials from Visit Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission said improvements to the stadium would help continue to attract the kinds of events — Super Bowls, last year's Bollywood Oscars, October's Taylor Swift concert — that attract visitors and fill hotel rooms.

"Our hotels are happy to take from their bottom line to contribute to the tourist development tax fund and indeed to create an opportunity like this for our community," hotel association executive director Bob Morrison said.

In other business, the council:

• Named Rasheed Ali Aquil, Donna Stark, Irene Guy and Mary Dahmer to Tampa's new Citizens Review Board for the Police Department. Mayor Bob Buckhorn in October named five board members and two alternates for the panel, which is expected to begin meeting next year.

• Gave initial approval to Busch Gardens and Adventure Island to sell packaged beer, wine and liquor at the parks. A representative of the attractions, which draw 4 million visitors a year, said Busch Gardens' sister parks in other cities have had success holding beer and wine festivals where visitors not only can sample drinks, but can buy and take home the products they like. The Tampa parks want the same opportunity. A second and final public hearing on the request is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 7.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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