ATLANTA -- Hillsborough County, Fla., has committed itself to helping finance a pair of bond-funded sports projects in the Tampa area: a $110 million ice hockey arena and a $20 million spring training facility for baseball's New York Yankees.
Last Wednesday, county commissioners approved, by a 5-to-2 vote, up to $3.5 million a year to fund over 30 years a stadium for the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League, according to Ed Hunzeker, assistant county administrator for financial services.
The decision on the hockey arena, Hunzeker said yesterday, followed a similar vote by the board on Oct. 6 to provide full funding for a spring training and minor league baseball facility for the Yankees. The team currently conducts its preseason training in Fort Lauderdale.
Hunzeker said that the county's decision last week to cover about half of the funds necessary to build the hockey arena came after an announcement Oct. 29 by the Lightning franchise that it had picked a Tampa site over a location in neighboring St. Petersburg. The team will play in the Thunderdome in downtown St. Petersburg until the 1995-96 season, when the new facility will be ready.
"In both cases we have committed ourselves to a plan that funds economic development in the county with essentially, no tax impact on residents," Hunzeker said.
He said that the county would combine two non-ad valoreum revenue sources to meet its commitment on the hockey arena.
The first source would be a surcharge on tickets charged at the stadium that would bring in an estimated $1.5 million a year. The other source would be a one-cent addition to the county's 4% hotel occupancy tax. Currently, the fourth penny of the occupancy tax brings in between $1.7 million and $1.8 million a year.
The occupancy-tax increase would require authorization from the state legislature, the county official noted.
Hunzeker said that if these sources are not sufficient to raise the $3.5 million, the county would cover the shortfall through a general fund appropriation, but under no circumstances would it make use of property taxes.
In addition, he said, planners expect the share of additional state sales taxes generated by the facility to provide about $2 million a year. Under Florida law, a new sports facility located on public land can receive a special allocation of state sales taxes.
Annual public revenues of $5.5 million would support a bond issue of between $60 million and $65 million in size, Hunzeker said. He said that because the Lightening will manage the facility, making it ineligible for public-purpose status, county officials are "assuming" the bond issue would be sold on a taxable basis. The probable issuer would be the Tampa Sports Authority, he said.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have committed to spend up to $50 million of their own money, he said.
For the baseball facility, Hunzeker said the county would provide funding through a "variety of sources" that could include a ticket surcharge, surpluses from the fourth penny of the hotel tax, and one-time revenues from as yet unidentified county special funds.
In addition, he said that the Yankees, who will manage the complex, are expected to make annual rental payments. The payments will help cover debt service on the bond issue that will be sold to build the stadium. Hunzeker said he does not expect this offering, which he also expects to be taxable and sold by the Tampa Sports Authority, to exceed $10 million.
Rick Nafe, executive director of the sports authority, said yesterday that his staff is working with the county to prepare the financings for the two facilities.
"We will be the vehicle used for the debt sold for the projects, but the county will provide the funds for debt service," Nafe said.
Nafe said that construction for both the 21,000-seat hockey arena and the 10,000-seat ballpark will begin early in 1994. He said the baseball park, which will be located across from the authority's Tampa Stadium, a professional football arena, is expected to be completed within a year, in time for the Yankees' 1995 minor league season, he said.
The next hurdle for the hockey arena, Hunzeker said, is picking a site. Officials are looking at two sites: a downtown Tampa location, likely along the waterfront near the city's convention center, or on public land next to Tampa Stadium at the sports authority's complex north of the downtown area. The cost of the land. would be $12 million, officials estimate.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have said they expect the city to come up with a plan for a downtown stadium by tomorrow or it will move forward with the sports authority site.
In voting for the hockey arena last week, county commissioner Joe Chillura said, "This project represents a commitment to economic development."
"There is a major inferiority that our community has that we have to constantly underwrite people to come here," countered commissioner Jan Platt, who rejected both the hockey and baseball stadiums. "I'll look forward to the day we stand on our own two feet."
Commissioner Phyllis Busansky joined Platt in voting not to back the hockey project. In addition to Chillura, commissioners Sylvia Kimbell, Lydia Miller, Jim Norman, and Ed Turanchik voted to fund it.