Rays' Matt Silverman: Talks with St. Petersburg will continue despite failed vote on stadium deal

Matt Silverman, baseball operations president for the Tampa Bay Rays, said Friday afternoon there is "good momentum" toward reaching stadium deal, despite Thursday's failed City Council vote. [Times]
Matt Silverman, baseball operations president for the Tampa Bay Rays, said Friday afternoon there is "good momentum" toward reaching stadium deal, despite Thursday's failed City Council vote. [Times]
Published Dec. 19, 2014

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.: Matt Silverman, baseball operations president for the Tampa Bay Rays, said Friday afternoon there is "good momentum" toward reaching stadium deal, despite a failed City Council vote.

Silverman said he expects talks with the city to continue "as we work toward an agreeable outcome."


ST. PETERSBURG — The morning after the Tampa Bays Rays lost a huge opportunity to explore new stadium sites in Tampa, the man whose question led to a meltdown in City Council chambers and squelched the deal offered some advice.

To the city, to the Rays, and to his colleagues, Karl Nurse said this on Friday: take a time out.

"My hope is everyone takes a deep breath. Cool off," Nurse told the Tampa Bay Times. "It is in everyone's interest to move away" from blaming one another for the deal falling apart at Thursday's council meeting.

Nurse also said he hadn't slept well.

He said on Thursday night, when he asked Rays president Brian Auld about Trop redevelopment rights — the issue that led to council rejecting the deal — he wasn't prepared for Auld's brusque response that the team wouldn't give up their half of any profits from a future development deal.

"But careful what you ask for, you might not get the answer you were hoping for," Nurse said. "I was hoping he'd crack the door open."

Nurse and other council members said they were stunned and felt like Auld was stiff-arming them. "They knew the question was coming," Nurse said.

City Attorney John Wolfe said Friday that the issue of development rights didn't come up in negotiations between Rays and city.

The first time it was raised was earlier this week by Nurse.

But the Rays declined to make any substantive changes to Kriseman's deal, first presented less than two weeks ago.

Early Friday afternoon, Kriseman issued a statement clarifying his position on development rights.

"Last night, City Council clouded this issue. To be clear, the city retains one-hundred percent of all development rights once the Rays leave Tropicana Field. The team is only entitled to development rights while they play at the Dome. What council was asking for was one-hundred percent of the development rights while the Rays are still there. If an opportunity emerges to redevelop the land before the Rays vacate, we would discuss that situation with the Rays at that time. Five members of Council sought to preclude any development rights for the Rays. By voting no, they did just the opposite, guaranteeing the Rays fifty percent of development rights through 2027."

At issue though, is a several year period that would start if the Rays and city agree to terminate the original contract and end when the team actually leaves.

Council members said they don't want a situation where the Rays would profit from a site they plan to abandon.

If talks do start up again, should the Rays show more humility?

"More humility? Any humility," Nurse said after Thursday's vote. "Less arrogance."

"They are in a business where they want people to emotionally own the team. That's the nature of the business they're in," Nurse said. "Any time you communicate your disdain for the community, it's bad for business. I don't want to fall in love with a girl that's going to leave me."

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Reaction to the council's defeat of the deal has varied.

Some local residents and business owners said they are relieved. And other Tampa Bay politicians said they are optimistic the Rays will come back to the table.

"I think the council showed a lot of moxie to make the stand and not to bend to the pressure," said city activist Dan Harvey, Jr., who spoke at Thursday's meeting.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he is hopeful for a positive outcome but doesn't think doing more of the same will produce different results.

"I was surprised, somewhat disappointed, but hopeful that over the next couple of weeks they will be able to revisit the issue and be able to find a path there," he said Friday. "It (the status quo) doesn't work for the team. I don't think in the long run works for the city of St. Petersburg, and I don't think it works for the region."

Pinellas county commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch both watched the meeting and said council members raised valid concerns, especially about development rights.

The compensation package if the Rays leave "wasn't what anybody wanted but probably the best they could considering the time line," Justice said. He still has hope for a deal, though.

"It's not like tonight is the deadline," Justice said. "We'll just wait and see what the Rays and the mayor come up with next."

The county remains a willing partner "fiscally and otherwise," Welch said. He urged Kriseman and the Rays to stay engaged and keep the conversation going.

"Ultimatums don't help us move forward," he said. "It's taken a long time to get to this point where we're having dialogue, and the fact that there wasn't a hundred percent agreement doesn't mean we can't continue to make progress. I'm optimistic."

Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman, said the mayor has no plans to meet with any council members or the Rays on Friday. He is leaving town next week for a vacation with his family.

"What the mayor said last night stands today," Kirby said. "This was a council decision. He meant what he said in chambers: This is the deal."

Times staff writers Tony Marrero and Rick Danielson contributed to this report.