The St. Petersburg city election and the World Series are over. It's time to look ahead toward renewing negotiations between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays on a fair agreement that would protect taxpayers and let the team look at potential sites for a new stadium in Tampa. Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg should introduce themselves to each other, start fresh and be prepared to move forward when Kriseman takes office in January.
It took more than three years, but Mayor Bill Foster finally acknowledged the obvious this summer. Every year that clicks off the Rays' long-term agreement to play in outdated Tropicana Field without a new plan to stay in Tampa Bay means less leverage for the city and a greater chance the team eventually leaves the region. Every year the Rays continue to finish at the bottom of Major League Baseball in attendance raises questions among other baseball team owners about the viability of Tampa Bay as a big-league market.
Discussions between the city and the Rays were on a promising course before they broke down this fall in the middle of Foster's unsuccessful campaign for re-election. The Rays would pay to demolish Tropicana Field, and the city would be compensated for every year that came off the stadium lease that expires in 2027. Concerns about weakening the city's long-term agreement with the Rays by letting the team look at other sites apparently were resolved, but there was no agreement on how much money the Rays would pay in any deal.
As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren reported Sunday, the ground is finally shifting. Kriseman will bring an open mind to the negotiations and a better understanding that keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay is the long-term goal. The business community understands the importance of approaching the issue on a regional level, and more St. Petersburg City Council members are considering ways to move forward instead of hiding behind the long-term lease as a short-term political play.
There is no one answer to resolving the stadium stalemate. It could be picking up the negotiations where Foster left off. It could be adding new elements, such as developing part of the Trop site as the Rays begin to examine their options. And any movement forward could be reassessed as mass transit options on both sides of the bay — and spanning the bay — become clearer. A 2014 transit referendum in Pinellas could bring a light rail stop to the Trop site, and an aggressive effort to push for rail along a new span of the Howard Frankland Bridge would affect stadium discussions in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
What is clear is that there should be a new sense of urgency to moving forward on the stadium discussions and reaching a reasonable agreement between St. Petersburg and the Rays. Four years have been wasted, and neither the city nor the region can waste another four years watching the calendar.