ST. PETERSBURG — A deal between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city appears almost certain to come before the City Council in January.
Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Rays have signaled their intent to reach an agreement and bring it before the council ever since the November election of Lisa Wheeler-Brown. Her election seemingly gave Kriseman the elusive fifth and deciding vote in favor of allowing the team to look outside the city for potential new stadium sites.
Now, the gears of the machinery required to reach a deal are starting to grind. Kriseman and Rays president Brian Auld have scheduled one-on-one meetings with council members next week.
That Auld and Kriseman are meeting together with council members suggests an agreement has already been reached.
In fact, Karl Nurse said Auld told him as much earlier this month at a reception for a visiting delegation for Cuba.
But, for now, both sides are keeping mum about the details.
No agreement has been drafted, said City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch on Wednesday. That means there's no public record to request.
Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby declined comment.
The Rays issued a statement from Auld: "We have always remained available to speak with council members and look forward to meeting with each of them next week."
Meanwhile, council members said they wanted a deal at least equal to the one defeated twice by the council in the past year. Generally, those terms allowed the team to share development rights with the city on Tropicana Field until it found a new home and paid between $2 million and $4 million a year until the end of the lease in 2027.
"It's not a real smart move to come back with less of a deal than the one we started with," said Darden Rice, who meets with Kriseman and Auld on Tuesday.
Wheeler-Brown, who joins the council after Saturday's swearing-in ceremony, is one reason the Rays and Kriseman are optimistic. She said repeatedly during her campaign that she supported Kriseman's plan to let the Rays explore.
Nurse said he's less concerned about the annual payments than development rights — and speed. He's long advocated for freeing up Tropicana Field's 85 acres for redevelopment.
"It's in everybody's interest, once we begin the process, to move with as much speed as possible," Nurse said.
Nurse, Rice and Charlie Gerdes voted twice in support of previous agreements.
Two members who voted against the proposals last year— Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton — are leaving the dais because of term limits.
Ed Montanari, who is replacing Dudley, said he's going to keep an open mind, but recently said he hasn't changed his mind about his desire for the Rays to exhaust all possibilities for a new stadium in St. Petersburg — or at least Pinellas County — before looking across the bay.
Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy, who voted against the deals, couldn't be reached for comment.
Amy Foster voted against an agreement last December but switched her vote to support an amended deal in May. On Wednesday, she didn't return a phone call requesting comment. She said in early November that she would vote "yes" if the deal remained the same.
Nurse said he wasn't about to start celebrating an end to eight years of uncertainty about the Rays' future home.
"I think until the vote is done, I wouldn't count my chickens," he said.
When the council surprised the Rays and Kriseman in December 2014 by voting down a tentative agreement, some questioned Kriseman's apparent failure to gauge support before a crucial vote.
This time around, Rice said, the mayor is doing his due diligence by meeting individually with council members.
"It's a smart way to do it," Rice said. "That's the way we should have done it last year."
The council's first meeting of 2016 is Jan. 7. But Kriseman and Auld have meetings scheduled with council members through Jan. 8, indicating that any deal probably won't come to a vote before the Jan. 21 meeting.