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Latest Tampa Bay Rays stadium search proposal appears dead

ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay's five-year stalemate over a new baseball stadium continues — with no obvious end in sight.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman decided Monday he doesn't have enough City Council votes to forge an agreement that would allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore potential new stadium sites on both sides of the bay.

That keeps the team playing at Tropicana Field into an indefinite future, Kriseman said, and prevents the city from developing the Trop's 85 acres.

"We are at a standstill,'' he said.

On Friday, Kriseman had released a new proposal to allow a regionwide stadium search. It revised a version the council had rejected 5-3 in December, and Kriseman said he had hoped it would persuade at least two of the five negative votes to switch sides.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes had signaled that he was prepared to call for a vote at Thursday's council meeting.

But after consulting with three key council members Monday, Kriseman threw in the towel, saying the proposal lacked enough support to pass.

"Unless the council changes its mind and is willing to move forward with this, the Rays do not have permission to look outside the city limits,'' Kriseman said. "And for the purposes of (the Trop acreage), the really big piece of this, the city is really stuck. We either don't do redevelopment until the Rays leave in 2027 or we have to turn over half the proceeds.''

The council might hold a workshop on the Rays within the next 30 days, Gerdes said. But with the 2015 baseball season starting next week, he no longer plans to put the revised proposal on the council agenda for a vote.

Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg said through a spokesman that he appreciated the work that Kriseman and Gerdes put into the proposed stadium search.

"We have spent many months working towards an agreement,'' Sternberg said, "so it is disappointing not to be able to move forward cooperatively with St. Petersburg.''

Amid tepid attendance, the Rays have said since 2010 that Tropicana Field cannot support baseball in the long run, so they want to scour the entire bay area for a "pitch perfect" replacement. The city has so far refused to let the team explore Hillsborough County options and the Rays have so far refused to negotiate solely on St. Petersburg sites.

That has stuck in the craw of several council members, who think the Rays should give more weight to the city's investment in the current stadium.

"There is nothing preventing the city and Rays from sitting down and saying 'What can we do together?' " council member Jim Kennedy said. "The concept that we cannot talk unless they can look everywhere — that is self-inflicted by the Rays.''

With 12 years left on the Trop contract, Kennedy said, "I think they should talk to their current partners.''

Former Mayor Bill Foster tried unsuccessfully to reach a compromise with the team before losing his mayoral seat to Kriseman in 2013. Kriseman campaigned on breaking the stadium stalemate and brought his first proposal to the council in December.

It would have given the Rays three years to evaluate sites and financing in both Pinellas or Hillsborough. If the team opted to leave St. Petersburg, it would have paid the city $2 million to $3 million for every unused season on the Trop contract.

But when that deal went to a vote, the council balked.

One part of the discussion focused on Trop development rights if the Rays announced that they were moving to Hillsborough. What would happen if St. Petersburg wanted to sell or lease Trop acreage before the team actually left? By contract, the city and team divide any development income as long as the team plays at the Trop. Council members worried the Rays could catch a windfall on their way out the door.

Kriseman's revised agreement makes it clear that the city would retain all development dollars once the Rays announced they were leaving.

"I thought that would be enough for their approval — for those who voted no,'' Kriseman said Monday. "But apparently it's not enough.''

Kriseman said he talked to three council members Monday who had opposed the original agreement: Kennedy, Steve Kornell and Bill Dudley. None would switch his vote, Kriseman said.

He did not bother contacting council member Wengay Newton, who has always maintained that the Rays should simply honor their contract to play at the Trop through 2027. And Kriseman did not talk with council member Amy Foster, he said, because it became clear that the proposal would fail even if she switched to a Yes.

Kornell and Dudley told the Tampa Bay Times they agree with Kennedy — that the Rays should negotiate exclusively for a while with St. Petersburg.

"I would do back flips to let them look in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County,'' Kornell said. "But not in other places yet. Maybe we phase that in after a period of time.''

Kriseman's proposal, which could earn the city as much as $20 million, inadequately compensates the city and county for what they have spent on the Trop over the years, Kornell said. "I could not in good conscience vote for that deal.''

Dudley also said the proposed compensation payments are too low. "We're just not getting enough,'' he said, "and the vast majority of my constituents agree with me on this.''

Dudley said he would like the city to conduct a thorough study of the team's economic impact on St. Petersburg to help him figure out an appropriate compensation number.

"My concern has always been the compensation part of it,'' Dudley said. "Whatever the amount is, I don't think it is enough for what we would give up. Is it $100 million? $50 million? Or maybe what we got? That's why I wanted that report. To give me a better idea.''

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at [email protected]

CORRECTION: St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said he didn't plan to put a revised proposal concerning the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium site search on the council agenda for a vote before the start of the baseball season next week. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online gave a different date.

Latest Tampa Bay Rays stadium search proposal appears dead 03/30/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 8:20am]
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