St. Petersburg Times: “Time for leadership on hockey”

 In Ice Palace, News Archives

Excerpt from St. Petersburg Times, May 2, 1992

The time has come for Tampa’s political leadership to come out of hiding and lead a reasoned public discussion to determine the best location to build a permanent home for the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

Only County Commissioner Ed Turanchik has been clear and outspoken in his support for reopening the stadium site selection process in a public forum. Others, including Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura, say they would like to look somewhere besides Tampa Stadium but are locked into the site because it’s supported by the National Hockey League (NHL).

That’s an abdication of responsibility and a misrepresentation of the NHL position. NHL officials told Times reporter Steve Liesman recently that they aren’t in the business of dictating where the league’s teams will play; they supported the site near Tampa Stadium because it’s the only one they saw.

The Tampa Stadium site governed by the Sports Authority benefits the influential group of men who unsuccessfully tried to bring baseball to Tampa. Both Coliseum and hokey officials have pressured any public officials who balked at their plans with the threat that any resistance might ruin the deal.

but After spending more than one year putting a deal together, Tampa Coliseum Inc. is foundering, and the land lease with the Sports Authority will expire in less than one month.

The Sports Authority should refuse to extend the lease or give any concessions to Tampa Coliseum Inc. The Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa City Council, which must approve changes to the agreement, also should reject any further concessions. After that, the selection of the location should be made through an objective, competitive process to assure that the building of the arena fits with the public policy goals for the city and county.

Now that the Lightning have found a temporary home at the Florida State Fairgrounds for at least the next two years, local officials have time to give the arena site the kind of attention that was missing during the original slapdash process. With $60 million of the taxpayers’ money at stake, it’s time those elected officials stood up for them.