An examination of the background, issues and ramifications surrounding the stadium litigation in Tampa.

AuthorGewirtz, Jerry M.

On September 3, 1996, in a highly publicized and controversial referendum, a majority of the qualified electors of Hillsborough County approved the adoption of a community investment tax the purpose of which, in part, is to fund the construction of a new sports stadium in Tampa ("Community Stadium").[1] The Community Stadium is to be owned and operated by the Tampa Sports Authority and will serve as the home field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers National Football League team as well as the site of other athletic and nonathletic events.

Approximately three weeks after the referendum was approved, William Poe, Sr., former mayor of the City of Tampa, filed a complaint against Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, and the Tampa Sports Authority (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the government") challenging the constitutionality of using public funds to construct the new sports facility.[2] Thereafter, the government filed a complaint seeking to validate the bonds for the construction and equipping of the new stadium, the acquisition and construction of a practice facility, and the demolition of the existing stadium.[3]

Upon agreement of all parties, the two complaints were consolidated for a bench trial before Judge Sam D. Pendino that was held during the first two weeks of March 1997. During the course of the trial more than 20 witnesses testified including prominent members of the community and nationally renowned experts.

On March 21, 1997, Judge Pendino issued an 18-page final judgment wherein he found that the construction of the Community Stadium would generate substantial economic benefits and immeasurable intangible benefits to the community. However, he refused to validate the bonds for the reason that he found one clause of the stadium agreement to be offensive. The clause in question granted the Buccaneers the first $2 million in net annual revenues from non-Buccaneer events. In a subsequent order dated March 27, 1997, denying a motion for rehearing, Judge Pendino stated that he would "validate the bonds if an agreement can be made between the Buccaneers, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Sports Authority to revise ... the Stadium Agreement to delete the clause that grants the right to the Buccaneers to receive the first $2 million dollars per year from non-Buccaneer events."[4]

Thereafter, both the government and Mr. Poe challenged the trial court's final order on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. On May 7, 1997, oral argument was held before the Florida Supreme Court and, on May 22, 1997, the Florida Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion reversing the trial court and ordering the trial court to enter a judgment validating the bonds proposed to be issued for the new stadium project in Tampa.[5] Mr. Poe subsequently filed a motion for rehearing that was unanimously denied by the Florida Supreme Court on June 18, 1997.

Significant Issues in the Stadium Litigation

A number of issues were addressed during the course of the litigation. Some of the more significant issues are discussed below.

* Professional sports teams, and the hosting of the Super Bowl, generate substantial economic benefits.

A substantial portion of the trial was consumed by expert testimony concerning the economic impact, if any, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the hosting of the Super Bowl. Expert witnesses called by the government testified that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would generate an annual economic benefit to the Tampa Bay economy ranging from a high of $183 million per year to a low of $83 million per year exclusive of inflation. These experts also testified that the Super Bowl scheduled to be held in the new stadium in the year 2001 can be expected to yield an economic benefit in excess of $300 million. In contrast, the experts engaged by Mr. Poe testified that neither the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nor the Super Bowl would provide any measurable economic benefit to the local economy. However, none of Mr. Poe's experts were able to present financial data that directly contradicted the data relied upon by the government's experts in compiling their economic forecasts.

After weighing the testimony, the trial court found that the forecasts presented by the government's experts were more credible and that, even using the more conservative forecasts, over the 30-year life of the stadium agreement the economic benefits are expected to total approximately $3 billion before any adjustments for future inflation. The trial court also found that, while economic forecasting is not a precise science, the continued presence of the Buccaneers and the hosting of the 2001 Super Bowl will generate economic benefits that can be expected to far exceed the cost of the new stadium.

Upon appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, Mr. Poe vigorously challenged the trial court's findings regarding the economic benefits. The court, however, was not receptive to this argument and at oral argument the court suggested that it would be improper for it to reweigh the expert testimony or substitute its judgment for that of the trial court.[6]

* Construction of a sports facility, such as the Community Stadium, generates substantial intangible benefits.

Numerous witnesses testified at the trial concerning the intangible benefits associated with the construction of the Community Stadium. Indeed, as found by the trial court, credible testimony was offered by a number of individuals, including the mayor of the City of Tampa, regarding these immeasurable benefits which consist of attracting national media exposure, attracting tourists and new businesses to the Tampa Bay area, instilling civic pride and camaraderie into the community, and providing recreation, entertainment, and cultural activities to the citizens of the Tampa Bay community.

The opinion issued by the Florida Supreme Court also recognizes the...

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