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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman puts Rays deal on fast track

Rays pres?i?dent Brian Auld said Monday’s talks were “positive.”

Rays pres?i?dent Brian Auld said Monday’s talks were “positive.”

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays aren't wasting time.

On the first business day of 2016, Kriseman, Rays president Brian Auld and City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch met separately with two City Council members to gauge their temperature on a new deal to allow the team to look outside St. Petersburg for a new stadium site. Briefings with the remaining six council members will all be held before the board's first meeting of the year on Thursday.

Details of what was discussed Monday were closely guarded. One council member, Charlie Gerdes, said the proposal wasn't markedly different than two earlier versions shot down by the council in the past 13 months.

"I wouldn't say there was anything brand new," he said. "There's been some refinement."

An ardent supporter of a deal between the city and the Rays, Gerdes said he was "cautiously optimistic" that his colleagues would support the latest version.

The second council member to meet with the Rays on Monday, Jim Kennedy, wouldn't comment.

Previous proposals have included payments to St. Petersburg ranging from $2 million to $4 million a year once the Rays announce the team has found a new home. Development rights to the current stadium site — worth as much as $1 billion— would revert to the city once the Rays announce they're leaving.

The pace of negotiations appears to have accelerated so that Kriseman could put the plan up for vote by Thursday's City Council meeting if he feels he has the necessary five votes. Gerdes said Kriseman's intent was to have an initial vote on the deal Thursday.

A final vote could then come as early as Jan. 14.

That's ahead of schedule. For several weeks, both sides indicated any deal would probably come later in the month.

Kriseman won't be in town for the council's third meeting of the month on Jan. 21. He's scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, said Ben Kirby, his spokesman.

Kriseman is scheduled to speak with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at the Tiger Bay political club meeting at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Friday, a day after what might be the historic City Council vote. A vote in favor of allowing the Rays to look for sites outside Pinellas County would shift the lead negotiating role with the team from Kriseman to Buckhorn, who runs the city the Rays might end up making home.

Kirby declined to comment on any time line.

Nothing related to the Rays is on Thursday's agenda, but it could be added at the last minute. When council members approve the agenda at the outset of the meeting, they could vote to add an item to be discussed.

On Monday, no one was saying much.

Kennedy, who has been an opponent of allowing the Rays to look outside the city, said he had promised Kriseman and Auld that their conversations would remain confidential.

Auld said only that the conversations were "positive and cordial."

Kriseman faced criticism after the council voted down a deal in December 2104 for not lining up support in advance of the vote. This week, nothing is being left to chance. All eight members, including newcomers Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Ed Montanari, will be briefed through Wednesday and have the opportunity to voice any objections or tweaks.

Like Kennedy, Montanari has voiced objections to letting the Rays search for a new home. Steve Kornell has voted twice against a deal, but has said he's open to new ideas.

Gerdes, Karl Nurse and Darden Rice have been steadfast supporters of a deal between the city and the Rays.

Wheeler-Brown has said she'll support a deal.

Council Chairwoman Amy Foster, initially voted against a deal, but changed her position in May, saying it was important to resolve the standoff and let the city move forward.

This time around, nothing has been written down yet. Kovilaritch said no public record exists of the latest deal.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman puts Rays deal on fast track 01/04/16 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2016 10:04pm]
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