The BankAtlantic shuffle

Published On: Feb 02 2012 08:03:45 AM EST
Updated On: Feb 04 2012 12:25:24 AM EST

When we tried to get answers from Florida Panthers president Michael Yormark, it looked like a hockey game broke out. 

SUNRISE, Fla. -

When I tried to question BankAtlantic Center Michael Yormark, a hockey game broke out in the corridors of Broward County Hall. You can check it out in the video above, but first here's the story. 

When the BankAtlantic Center was built in 1998, the public was sold in part on the promise of shared profits. The idea that since the public was going to finance the $185 million building it ought to share in the financial benefits with the private company running it. 

But it has turned into one of those Hollywood deals where you can never get money out of the back end. Somebody's making money, but it ain't the taxpayers. Then-Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga got the better of the county, which fought hard for terms that have turned out to be totally one-sided. 

How one-sided? So far the arena owners have made nearly $120 million in profit over the years. The county, which has spent $90 million subsidizing the arena, has pulled in one profit payment, in the very first year, of $300,000. Nothing since. 

On Tuesday Panthers President Michael Yormark was back at county hall promising big profits for taxpayers in the future -- so long as the county give his company a $7.7 million loan. The problem, according to Broward County Auditor Evan Lukic, is that Yormark's proposal is going to make it harder for the county to see any profits. It creates an arena fund that taxpayers must finance out of any "profits" it might see.

Didn't matter. Commissioner Ilene Lieberman came in with a theatrical "compromise" at the last minute and Mayor John Rodstrom -- who was there in 1998 voting for the original deal -- pleaded for a "yes" vote, pooh-poohing the idea profits he'd once championed. Lois Wexler and Sue Gunzburger voted against and Stacy Ritter abstained because her husband, Russell Klenet, is a paid lobbyist for a company owned by the Panthers. 

After the meeting I tried to question Yormark, who scurried away. I followed him. That's when Matt Sacco, vice president in charge of public affairs, tried to stop me. You have to watch the video closely to see where I am (the microphone gives away my location) and then watch as Sacco actually lowers his shoulder and moves quickly into me. What you can't see on camera is that his move basically pinned me against the wall. Then of course you can see what happens next. Some of Yormark's evasive actions look like dance moves.

Listen, when it comes to tens of millions of public dollars, I'm not going to be bullied into a corner. I'm going to get in my questions. It's what I do.

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