ST. PETERSBURG — Shortly before throwing out the first pitch at Tropicana Field on Wednesday evening, Mayor Rick Kriseman made a much more important pitch to the Tampa Bay Rays: Stay put.
Kriseman and other officials gathered across the street at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill to tout a glossy 43-page report the city prepared for the team outlining why the 85-acre Trop site is the best place in the Tampa Bay region to build a new baseball stadium. Most of the city's talking points have been discussed before.
The city's future is "a littler brighter now," the mayor said, now that the team has St. Petersburg's formal response to the Rays' wish list.
"We told the Rays that their forever place is right here in St. Petersburg," Kriseman shouted to screaming fans before Wednesday's game against the Yankees. "That's what this was all about."
The city highlighted the advantages of staying put: traffic is worse in Tampa, and the team could potentially share in a cash bonanza by choosing to stay at the Trop and split the site's lucrative development rights. It also included letters of support from 15 local companies, including Duke Energy, Bayfront Health, HSN, Crown Automotive, Nielsen, Raymond James, Great Bay Distributors, Ceridian and the Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club.
But the report lacked any financial details on how Kriseman plans to entice the team to stay. The mayor has said he doesn't want to negotiate publicly by specifying how the city might pay its share of the cost for the new ballpark, estimated to cost at least $600 million. He stressed that time will come once the team commits to the Sunshine City.
"We have more pots of money available to us in St. Petersburg," Kriseman said, referring to his rival Rays' suitors across the bay, Tampa and Hillsborough County.
"We are thankful for Mayor Kriseman's leadership and vision for the City of St. Petersburg," said the Rays in a prepared statement. "We appreciate the time and dedication that he, the City, the St. Petersburg Chamber and Baseball Forever have committed to this effort."
The report was a culmination of a year's work from the city's Baseball Forever campaign, a joint effort of Kriseman's administration and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. City officials presented their report to the Rays earlier Wednesday at the Trop and the mayor described their meeting as "very positive." He said team officials seemed surprised the report contained so much data aimed at meeting the team's requirements.
The mayor urged fans to step up and show their support for the Rays by buying more tickets and encouraging family and friends to fill stadium seats this season. The city needs to "show them love now," he added.
As Kool & The Gang's Celebration shook the bar, Kriseman lobbed balls to cheering fans.
The Rays' contract to play in St. Petersburg runs until 2027. But last year Kriseman championed a deal that allows the team to look outside the city until January 2019. However, efforts to find the Rays a stadium site on the Tampa side of the bay have stalled a bit.
Last month Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he was optimistic the team will find a new home in the bay area but that search is taking longer than anticipated. He hopes to identify that site by the end of the year.
The city's plan is available at baseballforever.com.
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