NHL’s Florida Panthers take on Broward County over $4.2 million scoreboard for BB&T Center

 

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

The Florida Panthers will ask the Broward County Commission Tuesday for $4.2 million to buy a new scoreboard and master control for the county-owned BB&T Center in Sunrise.

The team will have at least one detractor: County Auditor Evan Lukic said Monday the team should pay for the upgrade. Lukic also plans to present a report questioning the organization's accounting practices.

"They are responsible for replacing the scoreboard,'' Lukic said. "We are not. They have other means in which to pay for it.''

Panthers President Michael Yormark, said the landlord — Broward County — should pay for such a major upgrade.

The Panthers, in the middle of a 30-year lease with the county, play under the same scoreboard the arena opened with in 1998.

The new scoreboard would feature super-sized high definition screens sandwiched between two LCD ribbon rings. The arena, Yormark says, desperately needs the upgraded video and audio capability.

"We have puts tens of millions of dollars into this building since it has opened,'' Yormark said. "The county has not put one dollar into this building as a gift or as capital improvement. Not one. We've taken loans out, but we're responsible for those. It's their building. They own it.

"The scoreboard is a permanent fixture. If the Florida Panthers leave tomorrow, we couldn't take it with us. We've been a great partner. They haven't had to put any money into this building in 15 years.''

Yormark confirmed a National Hockey League representative will be at Tuesday's board meeting. The NHL promises to hold its annual draft weekend in Sunrise within the next three years and to hold an All-Star Weekend here in the coming years.

The Panthers, who last hosted the draft in 2001 and the All-Star Game in 2003, hope bringing in big events get the Broward tourism community behind the grant.

In addition to the NHL All-Star Game in late January or early February, the draft and a large Jehovah's Witness convention Yormark says he has booked for 2014 (one the Panthers claim will bring $96 million worth of economic impact) are set for the summer.

High-profile regular season college basketball as well as NCAA and Conference USA men and women's basketball tournaments are also on Yormark's radar for the arena. Yormark said the Panthers would bid for the NCAA men's hockey finals.

"Our proposal is to bring value back to Broward County and to our hoteliers,'' Yormark said. "Hopefully the commissioners see that in good faith. We're not just trying to take money. We're trying to bring money and business back to Broward County.''

The Panthers have had success when going in front of the County Commission in the past.

In January 2012, the Panthers got a $7.7 million loan for improvements and to build a expansive bar called Club Red in the middle of the arena despite a report from Lukic in which he told the commission that the team has profited greatly — to the tune of over $120 million — from its deal with the county.

The Panthers have also received loans from the county to defer payments to help repay the construction debt. According to the lease agreement, the Panthers' Arena Operating Co. pays the county $4.6 million a year aside from repayments of separate loans.

Lukic plans to speak before the commission before the Panthers and report that the team and its two sister companies — Arena Operating Co. and Sunrise Sports & Entertainment — aren’t complying with a contract on how money is distributed.

Yormark says the Panthers have no plans to pay for a new scoreboard themselves. If the county doesn't offer the grant, the team will continue to use its old one until it stops working.

The scoreboard has had a number of malfunctions over the past few seasons and Yormark said spare parts are growing scarce.

"We've put enough money into the building,'' Yormark said, adding the team is spending $1 million to replace the original flooring in the main concourse.

"We're not in the position to buy one. If the scoreboard just collapses next year, which I'm sure it will, we just won't have a scoreboard.''

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