Tampa City Council to consider spending TIF money on something other than baseball stadium

02/13/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Tampa City Council, Tampa Bay Rays, Baseball, Tropicana Field, Charlie Miranda, Yolie Capin, Frank Reddick, Tampa Theater, Straz Center, Lowry Park Zoo


Tampa City Council member Yolie Capin (left) asked for a workshop on the CRA funds because of talk they would be used for a baseball stadium.

photo by Janelle Irwin

By the end of 2015, a downtown Tampa development group run by the city will have more than $13 million in annual expenses freed up for something else. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said that money could be used to raise $100 million to, hypothetically, entice the Tampa Bay Rays to build a downtown stadium. But during a workshop Thursday on what to do with the money, several cultural facilities owned at least in part by the city lined up to ask for a cut.

“It is a city-owned asset with a private, not-for-profit board that raises money for the activities and programs of the theater.”

That’s Linda Saul-Sena, board chair of the Tampa Theater. With her advocating for a piece of the expected $13.5 million annual revenue stream was Charles Britton.

“Those of you [who] are homeowners know that the minute you close on your house, you better start saving for a new roof and to replace the air conditioner and all the other items that go with the joy of home ownership. These assets are aging. They’re reaching the point that certain things need to be replaced. In the case of the Tampa Theater, it’s 88-years old. It has items that should have been replaced prior to World War II.”

The city is currently using a pot of taxpayer money that comes from landowners in downtown called Tax Increment Funds – or TIF. That money goes into an account managed by the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency and can only be used for projects that benefit downtown. Approximately $13 million a year in that account currently goes to pay down the debt on the Tampa Convention Center, but that will be paid off in October, 2015. Mayor Buckhorn has said the restored revenue could be used to secure $100 million in bonds and speculated it could be used toward a stadium or roads and other infrastructure around one. But Tampa City Council Chair Charlie Miranda launched a 12 minute lecture on the topic.

“Council never have been talking about a stadium. We’ve never talked to no mayor in St. Petersburg about a stadium. We never talked to the owners of the baseball team across the Bay about a stadium. We haven’t done anything.”

Miranda lamented that traffic in downtown has gotten worse and worse over the years as events at the convention center and the Tampa Bay Times Forum picked up.

“And they want a stadium? I don’t know who wants a stadium.”

“Not me,”

said CRA, chair Frank Reddick. He worries too much talk about a stadium for the Rays, who have a contract with St. Pete to play in Tropicana Field until 2027 will reduce the input from the public on how funds for downtown should be allocated.

“Because I don’t want to dilute none of those people’s authority that a community-oriented citizen who volunteers, who is sitting in these advisory committees – this is their community and I don’t think we need to intrude upon their community. They make the decision what’s good for the community. They send us that information. We look at it, we’ll view it through the budget process and we vote on it and I don’t want to see us take that away from them.”

The workshop was requested by city council member Yolie Capin after it became clear people assumed officials may already have their eye on the funding for a baseball stadium. Still, some consider the discussion premature. Just how much money will be freed up when the convention center bonds are paid up is still unclear.

“One of the comments is, the County, the School Board has to agree to give up those tax dollars to the city, to the downtown CRA. If that does not happen, it will be the city recoups 48% of that which right now would be $6.8 million.”

Other groups including the Florida Aquarium and the Straz Center also asked council to consider using some of the funding for cultural facilities. Lorrin Shepard is the Chief Operating Officer for the Straz Center. He called organizations like his an asset to the downtown community.

“Not only to our quality of life and our community vitality, but also the impact they make on our economy and our business, tourism and local education and I want to add, attracting new businesses frequently through many years of association with the Committee 100 and its various reiterations that always seems to be a question as to what they cultural experience is going to be if I move my company to this town.”

Even Lowry Park Zoo, which is outside the downtown CRA district is advocating the city allocate some funding to places like the Straz Center and Tampa Theater. Craig Pew is the zoo’s executive director.

“Please call on us at the Zoo to help the CRA to explore solutions, explore how other cities both, here and Florida and nationwide, fund their similar, municipally owned assets. We know it’s a difficult issue and we encourage the CRA to consider tax increment financing to promote both public and private investment in Tampa’s cultural facilities.”

The issue will come before the full city council on April 10 to define the responsibility of the CRA and then again on May 8 to establish budget priorities.

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