TAMPA — Raymond James Stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was scheduled to get a new taxpayer-financed scoreboard during the past two years.
The high-definition scoreboard, packed with cutting-edge video technology, was part of an estimated $18.7 million package of stadium upgrades that included a sound system, new carpets for the locker and media rooms and new icemakers in the luxury suites.
But the Buccaneers asked the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages the stadium, to delay the renovations. The reason: The Bucs want an even bigger and better scoreboard, and the team is willing to pay the difference.
“Rather than just do the improvements that were initially budgeted, they wanted to do something more grandiose on their dime,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a member of the sports authority board.
Repeated attempts Monday and Tuesday to get the Bucs to talk about the new scoreboard and any other planned stadium improvements were unsuccessful. On Monday, the team fired its head coach, Greg Schiano, and general manager Mark Dominik. The team’s offices were closed Tuesday.
Eric Hart, president and chief executive officer of the sports authority, said the team has not shared its master plans for stadium improvements with him. Hart said the sports authority’s share of the cost for the improvements has been revised down to $17.6 million.
Tampa and Hillsborough County will be asked to provide $14 million to $15 million of the total. State law requires the local governments to cover the sports authority’s budget shortfalls. The rest of the money will come from the sports authority’s reserves, Hart said.
The public money will come from the fourth cent of the 5-cent Tourist Development Tax. The fourth cent is dedicated to bond payments and capital needs at Raymond James Stadium and George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The first 3 cents of the tourist tax go to Tampa Bay & Co., formerly the convention and visitors bureau, and to other tourist, cultural and sports organizations that compete for the money. The fifth cent goes toward bond payments on the Forum.
Hagan said the delay in making the improvements has been beneficial for the county because in the interim, the Bucs are paying for stadium maintenance and improvements usually paid by taxpayers. Meanwhile, the county’s tourist tax dollars are surging, thanks to the improving economy.
“It’s not costing the taxpayers any dollars,” Hagan said of the ongoing stadium maintenance. “In fact, it’s actually helped us because the last couple of years, with the economy picking up, most of the dollars coming from the Tourist Development Tax have performed much better, and it’s improved our bonding capability.”
Both Hagan and Hart say they think the new scoreboard can be in place before Raymond James Stadium hosts the college football national championship game in January 2017.
“Our goal will be to have a new one up there” in time for the championship, Hart said.
Hagan, who attended some meetings where Tampa’s bid for the championship game was discussed, said an upgraded scoreboard was not a requirement for the game coming here.
“I don’t think it was a requirement,” Hagan said. “But I think it’s in all of our best interests that we put on the best experience possible, and that would certainly be a part of that.”
Engineering and architectural plans called for the scoreboard to be replaced six to seven years ago. The board’s video technology, dating to the stadium’s opening in 1998, is rapidly becoming outdated, sports authority officials say.
“I think that whatever they put up in the air, they want it to be the future, just like we built the first one,” Hart said. “The first one was state-of-the-art.”