COUNTY COMMISSION DISCUSSES GIVING LIGHTNING TAX BREAK-Andrew Stelzer

12/01/04

Tampa Bay Lightning Tax Deal discussed At County Commission

Hillsborough County Commissioners also discussed a proposal to which would allow the Tampa bay lightning to eliminate an annual property tax of $630,000 the hockey team pays for playing at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The team also wants to control of about $350,000 raised each year from a county surcharge on tickets.

The Lightning – And Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio- say the transfer is fair because it put the hockey team on equal tax footing with Tampa’s other sporting entities – the Tampa Bay Bucs and The New York Yankees, who play their spring training games in central Tampa.

The deal must be approved by both Hillsborough County – and the City of Tampa.

In return, the team says if local government agrees to the transfer, they’ll guarantee they won’t contemplate leaving the area for at least 7 years.

The Lightning – the NHL world champions – claim they were losing roughly $11 million dollars annually until their Stanley Cup run last spring allowed them to finally make a profit….

Commissioner Rhonda Storms said that she was not a sports fan, and she wonders if it’s fair to give the lightning special treatment because it’s such a large business.

ACT “I’m really troubled by this…�

County Commissioner Ken Hagan wondered why the city should give a tax break when the team only guarantees staying in town for just 7 years? Sean Henry, Chief Operating Officer for the Lightning, responded by saying that he wished it were 0 years…

ACT “It may sound flippant..’

Commissioner chair Jim Norman, who is also a member of the Tampa Sports authority, said that the lightning bring 7 million dollars in taxes into the area, which is more than 10 times what they pay, so even giving the tax break, they are still an important financial asset to the area.

ACT “Were trying to lock a team in..�

While the county commission was asked to give the board of the TSA direction before they vote on the issue in a special meeting one day before the county commissions next meeting, Commissioner Tom Scott asked county staff –“isn’t the board supposed to give us direction, and not the other way around?�

ACT “I find that so interesting…�

The commission ended up voting to wait for a recommendation from the Tampa Sports Authority, and they will also negotiate with the lightning to have them promise to stay for 9 rather than 7 years. The vote was 5 to 2, with Commissioners Storms, and Blair voting against it. The recommendation will come back for a final vote before the council in two weeks. The commission also voted to delay a decision about whether to institute a surcharge on tickets for events at the St Pete Times forum until April.

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