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Kriseman: Another Rays MOU wouldn’t be free

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he wouldn’t give the team permission to look elsewhere without something in return. He wouldn’t say what, though.
Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg (left.) St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (right.) [SCOTT KEELER, MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg (left.) St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (right.) [SCOTT KEELER, MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]
Published Jul. 11, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — In an hour-long interview last week, Mayor Rick Kriseman touched on issues including the Tampa Bay Rays, the Science Center of Pinellas, the fate of rail lines in downtown St. Petersburg and his recent work trip to Hawaii. Kriseman spoke to the Tampa Bay Times in his temporary office inside the old St. Petersburg Police Headquarters, as City Hall is being renovated.

Tampa Bay Rays

The biggest issue in the city right now, or at least the one creating the most buzz, is the fate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last month the team announced it will explore playing a split season in Tampa Bay and Montreal. But in order to do that seriously prior to 2028 — the team is obligated to play all its home games in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season — the city would have to grant the team permission to look, similar to the memorandum of understanding the team and city worked out to allow the ball club to explore its stadium options in Hillsborough County. That three-year window closed at the new year with no deal worked out.

Kriseman says that won’t happen for free.

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“If they come to me and say, ‘We just want an MOU’ ... and not offer anything for being given that right, it’s probably not going to happen,” the mayor said. He declined what compensation he might require to grant that permission, not wanting to “negotiate” through the media.

Kriseman said any discussion about what he may be willing to let the team do is premature, as he has not yet spoken with Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg. Kriseman said the two men would try to schedule a meeting after Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, which was this week.

Science Center

Since St. Petersburg has begun acquiring the Science Center of Pinellas property in Jungle Terrace from the county, there’s been discussion about what might come of the land underneath it.

If the purchase is approved by City Council, the building will be demolished and the land will be used to expand the nearby Northwest Water Reclamation Facility. The alternative would be to eliminate the nearby brush site, and expand the plant into that property.

That contradicts what Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard said the city told the county it would do with the land: expand the plant and build housing.

“Right now we’re just focused on this part,” Kriseman said, referring to the plant expansion. “You know, don't mean to imply we’re not looking at housing, we’re always looking at housing, but for that site right now, we're looking at that expansion of that plant.”

Rail lines

The city sued railway giant CSX in federal court last month over a half-mile of track that starts along 16th Street N and curves west along First Avenue S to Dr. Martin Luther King St. S.

CSX claims it has sold the land. The problem is, the city says, it owns some of that land.

“You know, that’s like you selling my house and collecting the money for it,” Kriseman said. “It’s like, ‘Well, wait a minute. I own that.’”

The rail line runs adjacent to the old police headquarters, which city officials put out for bid to developers as the department moved into its new digs across First Avenue N. In the solicitation, the city wrote it would like that land to be converted to a park. Seven developers responded, many incorporating park land into their designs.

Kriseman also said eventually, that railway could be used for mass transit, possibly connecting downtown St. Petersburg to Tampa. But not if there's something built there.

“What we don’t want to see is it being sold to private developers, and then do developments on it and prevent us from ever having the opportunity to do make that use of it,” he said.

U.S. Conference of Mayors

Kriseman went to the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, this year held in Honolulu.

He described it as a networking opportunity, a chance for him learn what other mayors are doing and make connections that he can lean on in times of need.

He mentioned he could call up Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, with whom Kriseman went to Israel in May, any time and say “Hey, Eric, have you ever dealt with this situation? How did you guys handle it? Or have you ever had this problem?”

Kriseman added: “I think that’s there’s a lot to be said for that. That way, as we like to say, you can steal their ideas and scale them to your community.”

While the conference technically started June 28, the mayor arrived one day early to attend a summit on climate change. Roughly 60 mayors attended that meeting, which Garcetti chaired. That's up from 20 last year, and organizers hope to have more than 100 next year, Kriseman said.

The trip didn't offer much beach time, Kriseman said. Except for the hotel, he said, the only place he went was to a reception aboard the USS Missouri battleship in Pearl Harbor.

While he didn’t bring back a tan, Kriseman did return with a $30,000 grant to help make St. Petersburg even more pet friendly.

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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