Hillsborough County Narrowly approves approving funding to fix Convention Center Roof by Mitch E. Perry

12/06/06

The Hillsborough County Commission today narrowly approved a motion to free up $6 million dollars in tourist tax money to help fix the Tampa Convention Center’s leaky roof and air conditioning system.

In September, the Commission voted to earmark the funds, but said they would not release the money until next August, unless the City of Tampa began giving financial support to the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey team.

But last week, the Lightning announced they will tap into a $35 million dollar fund to pay for the renovations at the St. Pete Times Forum. That freed the city of Tampa from having to provide financial help directly to the club.

So today Commissioner Mark Sharpe introduced a motion before his fellow commissioners that he said was simple. To release the funds to help fix the leaky Convention roof (roll tape#1 o.q.�is made available immediately�)

But it would not be so simple. The Tampa Convention Center is owned by the City of Tampa, but it generates tourist tax dollars for the entire county. Therefore, the city has said, both local governments should help maintain the structure.

But County officials were using the $6 million dollars as leverage to force the City to start giving the Lighting hockey club economic concessions. The Team has been losing money for years, and there have been threats that without aid from local government, they could leave Tampa in a few years.

Nobody has been riding the City harder on the issue than Commisioner Ken Hagen. He went through a series of questions with the County Director of Debt Management, Mike Merrill regarding negotiations that the Lightning has had with local government for financial support – support , the 2 men agreed, that has not been coming from the city of Tampa (roll tape#2 o.q.�additional revenue, right�)

The City of Tampa has contributed about a million dollars financially for parking and police costs – costs that don’t impress Commissioner Hagen.

Last week, Tampa City Council members discussed the leaky convention roof with some disdain towards the County Commission. But they said they had hope that with 2 of their former colleagues now on the Board, help was on the way.

In that respect, Commission Rose Ferlita fulfilled that role, saying that part of her district includes the City of Tampa (roll tape#3 o.q.�of course not�)

Commissioner Al Higgenbotham said he was ‘torn’ by the complexities of the issue.

He said he wanted to visit the Center to observe the actual holes in the ceiling, and said he was not allowed to do so.

John Moors is the Administrator of the Convention Center. He said there have been leaks for the past couple of years, but now the problems have expanded. (roll tape#5 o.q.�professional contractor�)

As with all issues between the City and County government in recent years, the underlying tension was palpable.

Commissioner Brian Blair accurately said he was probably the swing vote on the issue. He said he wanted to help fix the roof, but said he wanted a guarantee from the City that if he supported the motion, the City would make sure to hire local contractors.

His motivation for that condition, Blair said, was his anger that all of the architects who were in the competition to design the next Tampa Art Museum were all from out of state (roll tape#6 o.q.�local people for the job�)

But Wise said the City would like to hire a local contractor, but couldn’t guarantee that (roll tape#7 o..q�give my vote�)

But Wise could not give him that guarantee..Still, Blair voted to release the money, joining Mark Sharpe, Rose Ferlita, and Kevin White

Commissioner Jim Norman blasted the City of Tampa – saying they have reserves that can pay for the roof now, but instead was holding up the city (roll tape# 8. o..q�than that“) Commisioners Norman, Hagen and Higgenbotham voted against it.

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