Sports authority OKs $100 million in stadium improvements

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015

Raymond James Stadium is a step closer to joining pro football’s elite in terms of gee-whiz, show-stopping audio and video gadgetry.

The Tampa Sports Authority on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team that will bring up to $100 million in improvements to the stadium. The upgrades will include two 9,600-square-feet video boards in the stadium end zones and an improved sound system.

New, smaller video boards in the stadium’s four corners are also part of the package. The 28,000 square feet of video will be the third largest total among stadiums in the National Football League.

Ten of the 11 sports authority board members voted for the agreement with only Chairman Andy Scaglione dissenting. The agreement still must be approved by the Hillsborough County Commission at its meeting today, and by the Tampa City Council, which meets Thursday.

Taxpayers will contribute $29 million toward the improvements — $3 million more than was required under the original stadium contract signed between the sports authority and the Buccaneers. The public’s portion will come from the fourth cent of a 5-cent tourist development tax.

In return for the sports authority upping its contribution, the Bucs agreed to increase their investment from $26 million to a minimum of $58 million. The team will likely spend $70 million by the end of the two-year project, sports authority sources said.

The Bucs made other concessions that benefit taxpayers such as increasing the amount of money the sports authority gets from non-Buc events held at the stadium. Under the current stadium lease agreement, the football team gets the first $2 million in profits from events such as concerts and truck shows. After that, the team and the sports authority split remaining revenues 50-50.

Starting next year, the sports authority’s split will go to 67 percent after the Bucs get the first $2 million. If revenues reach $3.5 million, the split will revert to 50-50.

The new arrangement could bring the sports authority up to $255,000 in additional revenue per year, according to sports authority estimates.

“We are dramatically improving an agreement that we are contractually and legally obligated to make,” said county Commissioner Ken Hagan, a member of the sports authority board. “And not only are we improving the fan experience dramatically, which allows us to compete for world class events such as Super Bowls and college football championships, but we’re also going to save the taxpayers a significant amount of money — potentially upward of $250,000 a year.”

Scaglione, the authority chairman and a longtime board member, disagreed, saying the same deal could have been made without giving up another $3 million in taxpayers’ money.

“The team went up 23 percent in value last year — $1.5 billion,” Scaglione said. “I don’t think $3 million would have broke the deal. I think we left some money on the table.”

The bulk of the improvements, including the new video boards and sound system, will be ready for the start of the 2016 football season, said Brian Ford, the Bucs chief operating officer. The revamped “Ray Jay” will make its national debut when the stadium hosts the National College Football Championship game Jan. 9, 2017.

Other improvements scheduled for the first year include 14 new concession stands in the upper reaches of the stadium and a renovated press box

Visitors who asked to speak before the vote Tuesday all supported the agreement. Joe Robinson, a local engineer and businessman, said he was happy with discussions he had with Manhattan Construction Group, the contractor on the renovations, about minority hiring for the project.

“I think Mr. Hagan … all you guys have beat the Bucs down about as much as you’re going to beat the Bucs down … you probably got about all you’re going to get out of the Bucs,” Robinson said.

Investments in the stadium make sense because they help attract big events like the Super Bowl, said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of the tourism organization Visit Tampa Bay. Those attractions in turn generate tax dollars through increased hotel stays and other spending by out-of-town visitors.

Corrada cited the recent Taylor Swift concert at Raymond James on Halloween night as an example of the economic benefits derived from blockbuster events. Hotel occupancy that night was 89.1 percent, up 34 percent compared to Halloween night a year ago. Local hotel revenues broke the $2 million mark the night of the concert, a 62 percent increase from the previous year.

“You invest money in the hospitality business to make money, and other communities are investing in their facilities,” Corrada said. “They’re investing in their convention centers, they’re investing in their sports facilities. To remain competitive, you have to invest.”

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