Today the Tampa City Council joined with earlier votes this week by the Hillsborough County Commission, and the Tampa Sports Authority in approving a deal that will allow the Tampa Bay Lightning from paying more than $600,000 in annual property taxes at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The deal shifts ownership of the major arena in Tampa from the Lightning to Hillsborough County. The reason that this shift occurs goes back to the original deal when the Lightning came to Tampa a decade ago. It had been assumed that the then Ice Palace was immune from property taxes because it was owned the Sports Authority, which is a government entity.

But that changed in2001 when the Florida Supreme Court found that sports arenas owned by some types of governments and leased to private interests had to pay property taxes. The ruling made All sports facilities in the state subject to property taxes.

Tampa City Attorney David Smith emphasized that point in presenting to the Council why it was appropriate for the Council to approve the deal (roll tape#2 o.q.�in our community�)

Under this agreement, the Lightning promise to stick around at the Forum for the next 10 years – if they leave before that, they would pay back the tax breaks they will now enjoy.

Yesterday at the Hillsborough County Commission Meeting, Property Appraiser Rob Turner criticized the deal as corporate welfare, and said it shifts more of the tax burden on to Tampa citizens. And he said the deal would provide ammunition for other business to ask for similar exemptions, like to NY Yankees.

But that argument failed to sway any opponents on the County Commission, or the City Council …Councilmember John Dingfelder praised Property Appraiser Turner, but said he could not go along with Turner’s sentiments and vote against the proposal (roll tape#2 o.q. �original deal was “)

As part of the deal, the Lightning agree to pay its share of special assessments for the Ybor City Trolley, stormwater, and the Tampa business redevelopment district.

Alluding to the 2001 State Supreme Court ruling, Councilman Sean Harrison said the City’s agreement with the Lightning was just rectifying the legal situation pre-2001…and he said that the deal was a winner for all entities involved (roll tape#3 o.q.�as well�)

Of course, no one knows when or if the Lightning will use the St. Pete Times anytime soon. A lockout by National Hockey League owners against the players because of a growing financial crises has eliminated the first 2 months of the regular season, and there are fears that unless radical movement between the parties occurs soon, the entire season could be lost.

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