Not that team owner Jeff Vinik had threatened to relocate, but on Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a $61 million subsidy from county bed tax collections to improve Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning. In exchange, the Lightning will committ more of their own funds to improving the venue, as well as agreeing to what equates to a 10-year extension in Tampa, locking down the team’s future through at least 2037.
Some of the renovations will address structural and maintance items in the 20-year-old arena, such as boilers, chillers, ice plant, escalators, and elevators. Under the current contract, the county owns Amalie Arena, but the Lightning are responsible for the cost of maintaining it through 2027.
“We just appreciate the county for understanding the arena’s critical structures and its end of life needs,” Bill Wickett, Lightning Executive Vice President of Communications, told me, adding the team will have chipped in nearly half of the $200 million in arena upgrades between 2010, when Vinik bought the team, and 2030.
“(This will) keep our building modern and viable for the long-term, presetving it in its current location at the center of the Water Street development district,” Wickett said.
The approved amendment would still allow the Lightning to leave Tampa prior to 2037, but would increase the multi-million-dollar penalties for doing so.
“We are fortunate to have a true community partner in Jeff Vinik,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has championed sports investment in the county.
Not every commissioner supported the motion; conservative commissioner Stacy White was the lone “nay” vote, voicing his objection to spending tax dollars on a pro sports team worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The deal will be finalized with an agreement between the Lightning and the Tampa Sports Authority to extend a pair of five-year options running through 2032 and 2037, respectively.
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