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Rays stadium issue may yet get an airing before the St. Petersburg council

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman's latest attempt to break a stadium standoff with the Tampa Bay Rays may get an airing before the St. Petersburg City after all — if not a vote.

Council member Karl Nurse has added an item to Thursday's council agenda, calling for a workshop on the stadium. If his colleagues agree to hold one, he also wants to invite the Rays to send a representative.

Nurse said Wednesday he wants to push forward with developing Tropicana Field's 85 acres, with or without baseball. Letting the Rays embark on a region wide search for a new stadium site, as they have requested, would allow the city to begin planning for intense urban uses on the Trop acreage, Nurse said.

"Assembling that kind of land is not going to happen very often,'' he said. "A boom is happening downtown and I don't want to miss the wave. You never know when the music stops or how long it will stop for.''

By contract, the Rays are bound to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, but have asked permission to look for new sites and financing in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

Last year, Kriseman forged an agreement that would have allowed such a search, including compensation for the city for any unused Trop seasons. But the council rejected that proposal in December on a 5-3 vote.

Kriseman released a revised agreement last week, hoping to bring it to a council vote Thursday. But after lobbying key council members, Kriseman shelved those plans, saying he did not have enough votes to pass the revision.

The new proposal clarified that the Rays would not claim any development dollars earned on the Trop if they found a new stadium site and declared their intention to move. That addressed a concern Nurse had raised in December, even though he ultimately voted for Kriseman's first proposal.

The Rays currently share half of any income from selling or leasing Trop acreage — as long as they are playing there. Nurse worried that the Rays could be on their way out, but still playing at the Trop for a few years while a new stadium was under construction. In that case, they should not share in any development revenues, Nurse said.

The Rays have said they will forbid any intense development on the Trop acreage while they still play there. That would disrupt operations. But if the team is leaving, Nurse said, the city can at least draw up master redevelopment plans, solicit tenants and even contract to sell the land.

One city official recently estimated the Trop's sale value at $100 million.

"You don't have to turn any dirt, but you have a fair bit of work to do,'' Nurse said.

Nurse's request that a Rays representative attend the workshop adds an interesting wrinkle to the ongoing debate. After the council rejected Kriseman's first proposal in December, and some members suggested that team president Brian Auld had behaved arrogantly, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times that Rays officials would talk to any council members individually but would not attend further public meetings.

The Rays declined to comment on Nurse's workshop request.

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at [email protected]

Rays stadium issue may yet get an airing before the St. Petersburg council 04/01/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 4:33pm]
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