Bucs, Hillsborough County hit snag in Raymond James Stadium renovation

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans cheer as the American flag unfolds on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 7, 2014. [Times (2014)]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans cheer as the American flag unfolds on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 7, 2014. [Times (2014)]
Published Oct. 1, 2015

TAMPA — The owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have proposed a deal to pay as much as $75 million toward a $100 million makeover of Raymond James Stadium, but Hillsborough County and Tampa Sports Authority officials are balking at some of the stipulations.

The Bucs seek the right to play an additional "home" game in another city, which has become a major sticking point, because county officials fear it could be used as leverage in future stadium negotiations.

Some of the improvements are required as part of the agreement to bring the college football title game to Tampa in January 2017.

But others are at the initiative of the Bucs and could boost a bid to bring a fifth Super Bowl to the area.

The team, county and TSA have been working toward a deal since January. Some of the stadium enhancements would include massive high definition scoreboards, a new surround sound system, video board control room and other items.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and TSA board member Ken Hagan said the TSA budgeted for the required stadium improvements three years ago but held off because the Bucs wanted to make additional investments.

"Unfortunately, negotiating with the Buccaneers has been extremely challenging," Hagan said. "Whenever it appears that we are close to an agreement, they always change the terms. The reality is, based on the terms of the original lease agreement, what is in the best interest of the fan is not always in the best interest of the taxpayer."

The Bucs see the ability to move an additional game to an international site such as London or another site within the state as a concession for forgiving the $11.6 million obligation the TSA has to construct a practice facility.

But the county says the practice facility had not been part of the negotiations before last week. The Bucs built One Buc Place with their own funding — estimated as three times what the county had set aside — opening in 2007.

"We thought we had a deal on the table last week. And then they kind of put out this whole new deal, which is quite different than what we were talking about," said Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator, whose staff is part of the negotiations because TSA is partly county-funded.

"It pretty much came out of the blue. I can't tell you what the motivation was."

Merrill said he learned of the new proposal Friday.

The previous discussion involved "basically a shared funding of the improvements that were needed at the stadium," Merrill said. Some were the ones the TSA is required to do. Some were additional ones that the Bucs wanted. There was a shared payment and reimbursement arrangement that the Bucs would pay for all of the renovations up front and once they were done and the county was convinced they were good, then the county would pay back its portion.

Once boasting a 100,000 fan waiting list for season tickets, the Bucs have seen home attendance diminish over the past seven years during their run of no playoff appearances.

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The Bucs see the right to play an additional "home" game elsewhere as insurance for their $75 million investment.

Under the current lease agreement, which will continue to run through 2028, the Bucs have the ability to play one home game, either regular or preseason, outside of Raymond James Stadium.

The TSA has countered with a stipulation that the Bucs cannot move a second regular season game to the same city as either of the other two games allowed under current the proposal.

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, also owns Manchester United of the Premier soccer league. The Bucs have played two regular-season games at Wembley Stadium in London in 2009 and 2011.

The NFL has expressed an interest in eventually putting a franchise in England. The Jacksonville Jaguars play one regular season game each year in London, and their ownership would like to extend that agreement.

"Over the last nine months, we have conducted very positive discussions with the Tampa Sports Authority regarding the state-of-the-art upgrades that ensure that Raymond James Stadium remains among the best venues in all of sports,'' said Brian Ford, the Bucs' chief operating officer, in a statement released by the Bucs. "In our discussions, we have communicated our interest in making a substantial private investment of about $52 million to $75 million to enhance the current stadium plans.

"During our conversations, many ideas have been discussed in an effort to continue growing our fan base in Tampa and securing large events such as the Super Bowl to our community. We look forward to concluding these discussions and announcing the exciting projects that are on the horizon in the very near future.''

Hagan said the TSA might be willing to allow the Bucs a second home game elsewhere in exchange for Manchester United playing a game at Raymond James within a reasonable period.

But while the Glazer family has the controlling interest in Man U, it's a publicly owned company whose exhibition schedule is not independently controlled by the Bucs owners.

Furthermore, the TSA has asked for a reduction in profits by the Bucs from other events at Raymond James Stadium.

A major renovation could greatly aid Tampa Bay's bid for the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl. The NFL announced in May that the city is a finalist along with Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans.

The enhancements proposed by the Bucs would enlarge video scoreboards over four times. It would include an all new sound system and fully equipped control room, stadiumwide concession upgrades, a full-sized air-conditioned team store and upgraded clubs and suites.

Opened in 1998, Raymond James Stadium is home to the Buccaneers and University of South Florida football team. The stadium, which was built for $168.5 million entirely with public money funded by a 30-year, half-cent sales tax in Hillsborough County, seats 65,908 and is expandable to 75,000 for special events. The stadium also hosts the annual Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

The current lease with the Bucs requires the TSA to spend about $26 million for capital repairs and updates to the stadium.

Those renovations have to be completed by January 2017 for the national championship game.

One concern of the TSA, was that if negotiations with the Bucs broke off, it wouldn't have time to fulfill their commitment to renovations for the NCAA championship game.

So the Bucs agreed to pay for all costs to start that $25 million project so there would be no possible delays.

Raymond James Stadium also has been host to Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 and Super Bowl XLIII in 2009. Landing a Super Bowl is always a battle of facilities: Atlanta will have its Falcons in a new $1.5 billion stadium in 2017. The Dolphins just finished a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium, and the Superdome in New Orleans got $320 million in renovations in 2006 after damage from Hurricane Katrina.