Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Hillsborough

Tampa is back in the game of luring the Rays across the bay

St. Petersburg officials confirmed Friday that Hillsborough County can talk to the team about a Tampa ballpark.
Tampa and Hillsborough County are back in the hunt for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 4
Updated Oct. 4

TAMPA — Once compared to a corpse, the dream of bringing Major League Baseball to Tampa has suddenly shown signs of life.

On Friday, Kevin King, St. Petersburg’s chief of policy and public engagement, confirmed that the city has no objection if Hillsborough and Tampa want to try again to persuade the Rays to move across the bay after 2027, according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

"This is good news,” Merrill said. “This is the most positive thing that has happened in a long, long time.”

RELATED STORY: Rays reject Ybor City stadium, remain committed to Tampa Bay

Merrill called King on Friday for an explanation after Times reporters informed him that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is disputing the notion that he is blocking Hillsborough from negotiating with the Rays.

Under a use agreement between St. Petersburg and the Rays, the team is required to play at Tropicana Field through the end of the 2027 season.

RELATED STORY: St. Pete and Tampa City Council chairmen have different vision for Tampa Bay Rays

A deal to play after that in Ybor City fell apart in December and Hillsborough officials have been eager for a second try. But they said during County Commission meetings in June and August that Kriseman had declined to allow it.

Merrill told the Times that Kriseman cited his legal team’s interpretation of the use agreement as a reason to prohibit negotiations about where to play after 2027.

RELATED STORY: Ken Hagan: Ybor City ballpark for Rays may still make sense

At the same time, St. Petersburg has claimed there was no violation of the use agreement with June’s bombshell announcement by Rays owner Stu Sternberg that he had discussed splitting the season with Montreal.

St. Petersburg said the talks between the Rays and Montreal officials had been informal and involved post-2027 scenarios, even though Sternberg said publicly he’d like the split-season arrangement to begin as early as 2024.

When Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was elected in May, she said she’d like to find a way to get the team to her city. Kriseman chided her at the time, saying she “had a lot to get up to speed on.”

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill welcomed the news Friday that Tampa and Hillsborough can negotiate again with the Tampa Bay Rays.

His position has apparently changed, said Merrill, who insisted he was personally turned down by Kriseman during a phone call earlier this year.

“Whatever," Merrill said Friday, “it doesn’t matter at this point."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has led the effort to bring the team to Tampa, was excited by the news. He said he plans to reach out to the team as soon as its playoff run ends.

The Rays are playing the Houston Astros this weekend in the American League Divisional Series.

“I’ll just say I am pleased that Mayor Kriseman is finally showing some leadership and has stopped kicking this can down the road,” Hagan said.

Kriseman’s spokesman Ben Kirby confirmed that King, the St. Petersburg official, spoke with Merrill. Kirby also confirmed that Irwin Raij, an attorney who has been trying to broker a Tampa deal, can call St. Petersburg City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch.

“Beyond that, we are not commenting on things Commissioner Hagan says right now," Kirby said. "Going to focus on the field and on this playoff team."

Kriseman was in Michigan for a mayor’s conference but released a statement late Thursday saying his position had remained consistent. He disputed Merrill’s account.

“I have great respect for Administrator Merrill but his remarks about post-2027 do no reflect any conversation we’ve had or the realities of the use agreement," Kriseman said.

“I encourage everyone in Tampa Bay to focus on the field of play during this exciting playoff run.”

On Wednesday, Kriseman was asked by a Times reporter why Tampa couldn’t talk to the Rays if Montreal could. The mayor declined to address the question.

"I’m here for the game,” he said repeatedly, while guest-bartending at a downtown St. Petersburg tavern as the Rays played the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card game.

Merrill said Kriseman had previously told him that his city attorneys advised him not to allow Tampa and Hillsborough to talk to the team once a three-year window for them to negotiate had closed in December.

In 2016, Kriseman worked out an amendment to the use agreement that opened the window for negotiations on the Tampa side of the bay.

Mayor Castor told the Times earlier this week she was prepared to “wait patiently” for St. Petersburg to allow Tampa back into the conversation. On Friday, she said she was happy to hear that day has come.

“That’s great news," Castor said in a statement to the Times, “we look forward to future conversations with the county and the Rays on ways we can collaborate to ensure the Rays continue to call the Tampa Bay region home.”

The Rays didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The details of the Hillsborough pitch will remain largely unchanged, Merrill and Hagan said. The Ybor City site is still the preferred one and the financing options are largely the same, although Hagan said the tourist bed tax may play a minor role in the new plan to finance the stadium, estimated last year to cost about $1 billion.

Hagan said he believes the Rays are serious about spending half the season in Montreal, but hopes Hillsborough can convince Sternberg to ditch Montreal.

“Certainly. Yes,” Hagan said when asked if he considered it part of his mission to make Tampa the team’s full-time home.















ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and developments.
    It’s unclear when the Mazda driver started driving the wrong way on the interstate, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
  2. A surveillance photo of an alleged gunman in Tampa shared by the Tampa Police Department on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The shooter allegedly seriously injured an 18-year-old outside the Fat Boy grocery on the 1300 block of E Osborne Avenue, police say. Tampa Police Department
    The shooter was with a young boy, police said.
  3. Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic steps out of the federal courthouse in Tampa in during the 2017 federal trial of her sexual discrimination case against the city of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON   |   Times]
    Tanja Vidovic will run against incumbent Joe Ayoub in the city’s March 2020 elections.
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue firefighter Daniel Esteban Rebora, 32, was arrested at his fire station on 10 counts of possession of child pornography, according to deputies. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said he had 10 videos depicting children being sexually assaulted on his phone. He is now on paid leave.
  5. The Topgolf on Palm River Road in Brandon features over 100 golf bays, a bar, a full food and dessert menu, a rooftop terrace and a large event space. Players can also enjoy free wifi, over 200 HD TVs as well as pool and fooseball tables. [Times (2014)]
    The driving-range filed for permits this week to add on the new course.
  6. Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald, a well-known Tampa plastic surgeon, died on Oct. 5 when his twin-engine plane crashed soon after taking off from Kokomo Municipal Airport in Indiana. Greenwald family | Tim Bath/The Kokomo Tribune via AP
    An employee at the Kokomo Municipal Airport said Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald told him he wanted jet fuel for the Piper Aerostar. A friend says there’s no way he would have knowingly done so.
  7. A Tampa company has spent nearly $8.8 million acquiring 180 acres north of Shell Point Road in Ruskin. Susan Taylor Martin
    We find the answers in our continuing look at new construction in the Tampa Bay area.
  8. A Walmart Neighborhood Market employee helps a customer pay for online grocery pickup order. Walmart
    Updated store will also have online grocery ordering and pickup starting Oct. 19.
  9. Trucks docked at the Sam's Club eCommerce center in South Tampa wait to be unloaded by workers, who sort and and prepare items for online orders. (SARA DINATALE | Times) SDINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wallmart-owned building will be a hybrid distribution center and traditional retail store.
  10. Timothy McCausland, the city of Lakeland's longtime city attorney, was arrested in Brandon on Wednesday in an undercover prostitution sting, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
    Timothy McCausland was charged with violating a county ordinance prohibiting public solicitation, records show.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement