ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are staying in St. Petersburg — for now.
The team sent a two-sentence letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday formally notifying him that it will not seek to extend the agreement that allowed it to explore a new stadium site in Hillsborough County. The three-year looking period St. Petersburg granted the team to research stadium options throughout Tampa Bay is officially over with no deal in place.
The letter follows a similar announcement Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg made last week at Major League Baseball's winter meetings in Las Vegas. He said the team was dropping its bid to relocated to a site in Ybor City, where it hoped to build a $900 million domed stadium with a translucent roof that Tampa officials thought would connect downtown and the Channel District to the historic Cuban neighborhood.
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The team remains mum on its future and has not signaled that it’s interested in pursuing a new stadium in St. Petersburg. At this point, the only contract the Rays are bound to honor is the one that states the team must play in Tropicana Field until 2027.After that, where the Rays choose to play their home games is as uncertain as ever. The letter offers no clarity on that. The letter does appear to eliminate the possibility, however, that last week's announcement was a leverage play designed to get a better deal in Hillsborough.
That's little solace for those who want to see the team remain local.
"I don't have a sense of relief," said St. Petersburg City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes, who said he'd rather see the team find a long-term home in Pinellas County, but would also rather the team stay in the Tampa Bay area than leave altogether. "It's not time to be relieved, it's time to make sure they stay here for a long time."
He added: "I want them to find a place where they can keep 'TB' on their hats for a long time."
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St. Petersburg City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch confirmed that with the Rays' formal "decision notice" filed, the agreement between the city and team by which the team could explore stadium options elsewhere is terminated. With it expired, the team must abide by the rules set forth in its Tropicana Field agreement, which stipulates the team must play its home games there until 2027 and cannot negotiate with any municipality about playing home games elsewhere until then.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has led the public effort to land an Ybor City ballpark, said Tuesday that he’s not worried about the letter.
“I don’t think it’s a very big deal at all,” Hagan said. “We were not expecting any last-minute Hail Marys.”
Hagan said Hillsborough officials will continue to add details to the the Ybor project as requested last week by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
But Hagan said it’s now up to the Rays to decide if they can make a go of it in a city that has hosted the team for 20 years.
“The ball is clearly in their court," he said. "We will not negotiate against ourselves.”
St. Petersburg officials have said if the Rays want to reignite the Ybor discussion, it would require a new legal agreement. Gerdes said the price of such a request could mean the team give up potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in development rights it currently has over the 85-acre Tropicana Field site.
“Clearly, there remain some elected officials in St. Pete that don’t see the big picture,” Hagan said when asked about Gerdes’ comments. Hagan said the team and Manfred have made it clear over the years that they don’t consider the Sunshine City to be a viable location for the team after its Tropicana Frield agreement expires in 2027.
“They’ve already lost an enormous amount of revenue and economic development by not developing the Trop site. Hopefully, they will see the light.”
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