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Kriseman says poor neighborhoods to get at least $5 million if Rays stay or go

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to make one thing clear: at least $5 million is headed to the impoverished neighborhoods of south St. Petersburg from the Tampa Bay Rays deal — regardless of whether the team stays or goes.

And that $5 million is just a down payment, he said Tuesday.

The predominantly African-American community whose Gas Plant neighborhood was demolished to make way for Tropicana Field and which has seen scant economic benefits after baseball started on the 85 acres might get more money, Kriseman said.

"That's just a starting point," he said.

The mayor's "conceptual" plan depends on City Council's anticipated approval of a memorandum of understanding at Thursday's meeting. That tentative agreement would allow the Rays to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties for the next three years.

If the Rays decide to leave the city, the money for the poor neighborhoods will come from up to $24 million in payments the team will provide to compensate for the loss of the Rays.

But if the Rays stay, a joint escrow account set up to handle revenue from the redevelopment of the site would be tapped.

"It's not an either/or," Kriseman said.

On Friday, Kriseman told the Tampa Bay Times that the $5 million would be a one-time payment from that development fund.

On Tuesday, he said that if he misspoke it was because he assumes the Rays will stay in the city, necessitating the money for the south side neighborhoods to come from the development fund.

Over the weekend, some social media commentators criticized the mayor for pledging only $5 million out of what could be hundreds of millions of development revenue.

Kriseman said that criticism hadn't changed his position.

He did raise the issue in private meetings with council members last week.

Council member Karl Nurse said the mayor mentioned that the money would come from the development fund. Council member Steve Kornell agreed with Nurse on that point.

The important thing, Kriseman said, isn't where the money is coming from, but what it is intended to do.

The council will have to approve how the money is spent, he said. But he wants it to be used for systemic improvements.

"That's important to me. It's something that I have tried to do since I came into office. I say 'The sun shines on all' for a reason."

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

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