Tourist Tax Spending Plan to aid sports facilities on hold by Mitch E. Perry

05/03/06

A controversial plan for to use tourist tax payer dollars to help out the Tampa Bay Lightning and other professional sports teams , originally scheduled to be discussed at today’s Hillsborough County Commission meeting, has been delayed until at least next week.

But the proposal still was discussed, when Commissioner Tom Scott objected that he learned that the proposal – being spurred by calls by the Lightning, which has lost been delayed by reading the morning newspapers – before being briefed by County Administration. (roll tape#1 o.q.�a vote on�)

Scott also said that this was an issue that directly involved the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council, and believe they need to discuss the issue before the County decides on devoted up to $70 million dollars in tourist tax dollars.

The idea of using the 5 percent tourist tax to aid the St Pete Times Forum, home of the Hockey Lightning, and the other sports facilities in Tampa – Legends Field and Raymond James Stadium – was hatched by Commisioner Jim Norman, who also sits on the The Tampa Sports Authority(roll tape#2 o.q.�that we have to eventually plug�)

The controversy revolves around the fact that although County officials had met with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who play in the Forum, about the proposal, they have NOT spoken with many of the other entities involved. Such as the Tampa Sports Authority , the Tourist Development Council,– as well as the ballclubs involved =the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Bucanneers.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio also objected upon initially learning of the plan, saying that the city didn’t know anything about it, and also that much of the money that County officials were talking about came from inside the City.

Even though they were the defending Stanley Cup Champions until they were knocked out of the playoffs last weekend, the Lightning – like many other hockey franshises, claim to be losing millions every year. They currently are already negotiating with Tampa to receive a larger portion of parking revenue from the Forum.

County Commissioner Jim Norman says that it’s critical that funding for the St. Pete Times Forum happen soon, since the Lightning are the main tenant there, and the County officially now operates the facility (roll tape#3 o.q.�for these facilities�)

Commissioner Kathy Castor said she appreciated Commissioner Norman bringing the issue to the table, but also sided with Commissioner Scott about getting the Tourist Development Council involved (roll tape#4 o.q.�details on..�)

Richard Gonzmart is the owner of the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, and is also a member of the Tourist Development Council. He told Commissioners that that group meets next Thursday, and would appreciate if the County Commission hold off on any vote until the TDC’s members had discussed the issue (Roll tape#5 o.q.�tourism for the future�)

The County had agreed to discuss the issue 2 days before the TDC meets, next Tuesday. If they were to do so, that would ignore Gonzmart’s request.

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