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St. Petersburg measures impact of Braves spring training plans on Rays' plans

City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes, right, scheduled a resolution for the Oct. 1 council meeting to ask the Tourist Development Council and the Pinellas County Commission to preserve the existing portion of the county's bed tax - about $6 million - for the Rays until the team's quest for a new stadium is resolved. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Sep. 25, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The Atlanta Braves' blockbuster plan to move its spring training home to Pinellas County while scooping up millions in tax dollars is pressuring officials to break a stalemate between the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Petersburg City Council.

For months, the City Council has refused to provide the Rays permission to break the terms of its lease agreement at Tropicana Field and search for stadium sites elsewhere in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

But after a plan that would provide the Braves a spring training facility at Toytown was revealed publicly this week, City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said he wants to preserve a revenue source for a new stadium for the Rays.

On Thursday, Gerdes scheduled a resolution for the Oct. 1 council meeting to ask Pinellas County commissioners and Tourist Development Council members to earmark $6 million of the county's bed tax for the Rays until the team's quest for a new stadium is resolved.

Gerdes says he wants that money, which could be used on the Toytown proposal, set aside instead for a new Rays stadium in Pinellas County after the original bonds issued to build Tropicana Field expire at the end of the month.

That idea was met with a resounding shrug.

Council member Darden Rice said that she thinks the council needs to coordinate with Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is a TDC member. A resolution may send the wrong message, she said.

"What's the best approach with the TDC given the pro-beach and anti-St. Pete sentiment?" Rice said. "We need to be aware of the unintended consequences of how that message might be received."

Kriseman's chief of staff, Kevin King, said only that a resolution is "way premature."

Gerdes' move comes two days after the Braves plans with former baseball star Gary Sheffield and local developer Darryl LeClair were made public.

On Thursday, some new details of the deal emerged. The proposal includes a concept to spend up to $10.5 million in bed-tax revenues every year to support spring training. In addition, the county would be obligated to pay another $1.3 million each year on marketing the site and for a negotiated number of county events.

The Rays declined comment. Nor did LeClair and Sheffield.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a TDC member, said he recognized the importance of keeping the Rays in Pinellas County or the region, but indicated that his patience with the St. Petersburg City Council, which defeated a plan last year to let the team explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County, is running thin.

"We can't wait forever for St. Petersburg to decide what to do with the Rays," Cretekos said.

Clearwater has hosted the Philadelphia Phillies each spring since 1948. Cretekos said he understands the Braves' desire to be near other teams. And he thinks it only helps his city and the Phillies.

"I think it would support and strengthen the teams we have here and hopefully add more teams," Cretekos said.

He said Atlanta has become a big source of tourists recently, so adding Braves spring training to the mix makes economic sense. The Phillies declined comment.

Major League Baseball also declined to comment on Atlanta's proposal, but did confirm that a league rule prohibiting teams from encroaching on one another's territory doesn't apply to spring training.

Another issue between the Rays and the city also bubbled up Thursday.

Kriseman formally shot down an idea floated by council member Jim Kennedy to have the Urban Land Institute conduct an economic analysis of the Tropicana Field site.

Kennedy voted against Kriseman's deal with the Rays last year.

Such a study, Kriseman wrote in a memo, "would not be wise use of public dollars, and would likely be moot if not acted up on within a short period of time."

However, the mayor wrote, if council approved a deal with the Rays, "a study at that time would be entirely appropriate."

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Contact @CharlieFrago.

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