Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders finally got together and agreed to do something about infrastructure, according to a lead story in The Tampa Tribune today. Not much, mind you, but the Tampa Sports Authority has agreed to plop down $29 million in taxpayer funds to fix some nagging problems that never seem to go away.
We’re not talking about upgrading the city’s stormwater infrastructure to ensure motorists don’t need boats to leave their homes and hotel rooms during next year’s rainy season. South Tampa residents still need to put up “no wake” signs in their front yards after heavy rains. We’re talking about addressing real infrastructure issues that have plagued the Raymond James Stadium for years, like the arena’s technologically-challenged scoreboard. This and other stadium infrastructure problems have apparently riveted the attention of Joe Sixpack for some time. However the community investment tax of 1996 that built the stadium ran out of money a while back because local politicians depleted its equity by borrowing against it. So, once again, it’s time for taxpayers to step up and bail the Glazers out, and just in time for Christmas.
According to the article titled Bucs, sports authority agree on $100 million deal for stadium upgrades, TSA and community leaders have agreed to give the Glazer family the $29 million to provide economic relief for the relatively impoverished team owners and their hapless 5-6 Buccaneers. One reason the Bucs find themselves with a hopelessly outdated scoreboard is that revenues from the Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax that built the Glazer family a new stadium was expected to grow at a robust 6 percent a year after it was sold to taxpayers in 1996. However, actual receipts from the voter-approved tax-lure have reportedly increased at a snail’s pace, around 1.8 percent annually over the last 10 years. The Glazers probably didn’t notice the stadium investment tax going down in flames since their family benefited exponentially in their taxpayer-funded stadium. This would explain the sheer gall of asking taxpayers to give them another $29 million for stadium upgrades while catfish were still swimming in Tampa’s streets.
It’s a little harder to explain why city and county leaders aren’t threatening to take the stadium away from the Glazers and give it to another NFL team. Instead of showering the Glazer family with cash, the community investment tax was supposed to provide over $3 billion for community infrastructure. Unfortunately for Joe Sixpack and in spite of the community investment tax, images of trailered boats floating away from homes and hundreds of cars sitting in water up to their Windows were prominently displayed by local television stations and in the Tampa Tribune as recently as last year.
Turns out it may be a good thing Tampa City Council recently approved the sale of hard liquor throughout stadium. Buzz driving (though not recommended here) may reduce the stress level of fans as they dodge potholes and rogue waves on the way home from stadium events. In case you’re questioning how the TSA is able to give such a sweet deal to the Glazers while the city’s infrastructure languishes, local politicians have blessed the project. In fact, County Commissioner Ken Hagan sits on the TSA Board. Going forward, the ever-generous Bucs and TSA have agreed to increase the share of money the TSA receives for non-Buc events at the stadium, such as Monster Jams, concerts and University of South Florida football games to 67 percent. The Bucs currently get the first $2 million annually from those events; the remaining profits are split 50-50 between the team and the sports authority. The new “sharing agreement” would net taxpayers an additional $200,000 to $250,000 a year, according to Hagan.
However, the small circle of recipients reaping benefits from these inside tax expenditures don’t include the community at large. For example, how long will it take TSA to repay itself $29 million for a scoreboard after all other expenditures and tax breaks approved for stadia in the Tampa Bay area? If you guess not until another huge, taxpayer-funded stadium upgrade is proposed, you’re probably right. Meanwhile, catfish will continue to swim Tampa’s streets