Lightning offer to stay in Tampa 16 more years, only demand $61m in tax money to do so

Here is a headline from the business section of the Tampa Bay Times, “winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes”:

Hold on to your Bolts: Lightning in talks to stay in Tampa through 2037

And here is the fourth paragraph of said article:

In exchange, Hillsborough County will commit $61 million over the next two decades to maintenance and upgrades of Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm and one of the area’s top entertainment and concert venues. The money will come from the fifth cent of the Tourist Development Tax, a fee assessed on each night’s stay at a hotel or motel.

In journalism circles, this is a trick known as “burying the lede,” spelled that way either in order to distinguish it from the actual word “lead” or because journalists are just nuts. It’s a very bad thing to do, because readers who only get as far as scanning the headline — which, having spent some time with web traffic numbers in the age of Facebook, I would say is likely most readers — come away thinking “yay, more years of hockey!” and miss the part where it’s going to cost them an extra $61 million over the next 20 years.

And it’s an extra $61 million, no doubt about that, because there’s even more lede buried even further down in graf (yes, “graf”) #7:

The county owns Amalie Arena, but under the existing contract Hillsborough is not under any obligation to pay for maintenance or upgrades. That onus falls on the team, which runs the day-to-day operations.

This is becoming a standard ploy for team owners getting to the end of their stadium and arenas leases who don’t actually want new buildings (or don’t think they can get away with demanding new buildings) but do want to extort some kind of cash handouts in exchange for their continued existence. So how does $3.8 million a year (that’s $61 million over 16 years, since the Lightning already committed to staying put through 2021 in exchange for a previous bundle of public kickbacks) compare to other recent lease extension shakedowns?

So Hillsborough County taxpayers can at least say they’re getting a better deal than some other cities, though not all, and not even quite as good a deal as they got a few years ago. More to the point, though, did they have to give up this much? Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has not only expressed no interest in leaving Tampa, he has operating rights to a money-making arena, and is investing in a $3 billion downtown development project in the city. So the guy already has innumerable reasons not to flee town, even before handing him $61 million as a bonus. Far be it from me to tell Hillsborough County officials how to do their job, but are you guys sure you’re good at this whole lease negotiations part of it?

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16 comments on “Lightning offer to stay in Tampa 16 more years, only demand $61m in tax money to do so

  1. Hi Neil. I have been an avid reader of your site for a while now. I will continue to read in exchange for 1 free membership, and 1 advertisement. If you do not accept, I am moving to Quebec City.

  2. In today’s world, I’m going to say that $61M over 16 years isn’t too horrible. Kind of sad this is how far we’ve slipped, though. “Not too horrible” is worthy of consideration.

    1. It makes one wonder, though, if there was any negotiation at all. Did Vinik want $100 million? $50 million? A zillion? It would be nice to know.

  3. Meanwhile, teachers in Tampa are in an uproar about their diminished bonus’s. Their bonus is going to their fellow Dem Marxist hockey owner.

    1. Leaving aside the question of how good a Marxist you can be when you’re a billionaire hedge fund manager, Vinik has given tons of money to Republicans:

      1. I’m not shocked, even by American sports standards Lightning games tend to be very militaristic.

        The $50k for a random charity thing makes up for it in my mind, though.

      1. So he doesn’t care about voting in primaries enough to change his registration to a party. $$$ speaks a lot louder than a tick on a form.

    2. To be clear, the teachers’ contract was for a $4,000 bonus for meeting explicit Hillsborough County education goals after 4 years. After they met the requirements & it came time to pay, the county reneged and then later offered $92. But the county paid out Venik & is slathering over the Rays…

      1. It is not a bonus, it is a well-deserved raise, which means it will be recurring year after year. Good luck funding that. Florida and Hillsborough County go out of their way to neglect education while pissing away hundreds of millions of dollars to make billionaires even richer. State law requires that the ‘bed tax’ be used only for touristy things and/or welfare to the billionaires, not for important needs of the community, such as education. It is interesting to note that the amount of property tax dollars in Florida going to schools is declining year over year while at the same time crazy amounts of money are being thrown at the Bucs, Yankees (spring training facility), Lightniing, and almost certainly very soon – the Rays.

        Please excuse me while I go puke.

  4. Then there are the Pacers who receive 16 million per year for maintenance for ten years, in a building paid for by the taxpayers and in which they receive 100% of all revenue regardless of event.

  5. Glad none of my tourist taxes will be going to any teams in Hillsborough County when I take my annual winter vacation to the Tampa area. Thank you Pasco County.

  6. Having grown up in Hillsborough County and having seen the way the Bucs rolled the commissioners to get RJS built, I can’t say I’m one teeny tiny bit surprised at this.

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