State senator wants sports stadiums used as homeless shelters

5:48 PM, Nov 4, 2011   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG-- Some of the Tampa Bay area's highest profile venues would double as homeless shelters if one state senator gets his way.

Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) says places like Raymond James Stadium, the St. Pete Times Forum, Tropicana Field, and 14 other professional stadiums are required by law to serve as shelters when the home teams aren't playing.

He points out that law has been on the books since 1988, but it's not enforced.

Because of that, Bennett wants Florida taxpayers to get back all of the $261 million he says the state was given to build or improve stadiums over that 23-year period.

But he doesn't think team owners are on the hook; he wants the money back from cities and counties.

"It was their responsibility to enact an ordinance to take care of homeless people," Bennett said. "You have broken the law and we want our money back."

When told of Bennett's proposal, St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said "that's not going to fly."

Foster points out two things.

First, he says St. Pete already spends more on homeless facilities than the $2 million it receives from the state each year for Tropicana Field.

Second, the language in the law calls for stadiums to be "designated" as homeless shelters, not actually "used" as homeless shelters.

Foster thinks there is a big difference. "It would not be feasible to use any one of these large facilities during periods of darkness or offseason," he said.

Bennett has filed a bill seeking reimbursement. He also tells 10 News he's willing to file a lawsuit to get the money back.

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