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Kriseman, Rays release details of new proposed agreement on stadium search

Mayor Rick Kriseman speaks to the media as Rays president Brian Auld listens at Tropicana Field. [MAURICE RIVENBARK | Times (2014)]

ST. PETERSBURG — A long-awaited proposal that would allow the Tampa Bay Rays to search for a new home was released late Thursday to the City Council, which will vote on it next week.

The terms of the deal requires the Rays to pay up to $24 million in annual payments, which is about the same amount from previous attempts to resolve an eight-year standoff between St. Petersburg and the team.

But the new deal, which Mayor Rick Kriseman said could "fundamentally change" the city's future, includes some innovations that weren't in prior attempts. Chief among them is a shared account financed by development revenue from the Tropicana Field site.

Kriseman said that account could become flush with private money from developers eager to tap into the downtown boom and transform the Trop's 85 acres.

Kriseman said private money could help build a new stadium and help take taxpayers off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to build a new stadium — if the Rays stay.

Other highlights of the proposal include:

• The Rays wouldn't be allowed to select a new home for six months so that St. Petersburg would have time to make a case to keep the club.

• The Rays would pay up to $100,000 for a city master plan to redevelop the Trop, with or without a stadium. If the team stays, it gets the money back.

• The Rays would release a written plan within 60 days of the City Council's approval that provides a general description of how the club will evaluate potential sites. The team wouldn't have to provide quarterly updates.

• The deal would expire after three years if the Rays decide to stay or can't find a new home. If the club decides to leave, annual payments would begin at $4 million for 2018, $3 million per year from 2019 to 2022 and $2 million a year 2023 to 2026. The team can't leave St. Petersburg before 2018, although building a stadium would typically take at least three years.

• The team retains veto rights on development of the site while it plays at the Trop.

In an interview with Tampa Bay Times Thursday night, Kriseman said he was most excited about the deal's potential to redevelop the Trop. He said development revenues, estimated as high as $1 billion, could be used to pay the city and team's share of a new state-of-the-art ballpark.

"There's the money, right there, to pay for a new stadium," Kriseman said. "We wouldn't have to ask for nearly as much public money. We would have to issue bonds. And with the tax revenue, we get two pots of money to draw from."

Rays president Brian Auld also had good things to say about the agreement.

"We are grateful to Mayor Kriseman for his attention and leadership," Auld said in a statement. "This agreement creates a positive path forward for both the City and the Rays."

The proposal was vetted verbally with all eight council members in a series of meetings this week attended by Kriseman, Auld and City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch.

Council member Karl Nurse said Kriseman's efforts to gauge council members before announcing a deal was a marked, welcome change from December 2014 when Kriseman announced a deal and tried to schedule a vote just a few days later.

"Life is a learning experience," Nurse said. "He's gotten better at this."

Newly installed City Council chairwoman Amy Foster said earlier Thursday that she's inclined to vote for a deal after her Wednesday meeting with Kriseman and Auld.

Foster voted against the proposal agreed to by Kriseman and the Rays in December 2014, but voted to approve the slightly modified version of that same memorandum of understanding in May.

"Of course, the devil is in the details," said Foster, who hadn't read the written version.

She said she expected the council to vote on the deal on Jan. 14.

That's when Kriseman wants the vote, too.

"I want to get moving on this," he said.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown's election to the council likely gives the mayor the five votes he needs to secure the deal. Wheeler-Brown, who said she supports Kriseman's previous attempts to reach a deal, was elected in November to a council seat formerly occupied by an opponent of those deals.

But if the agreement is approved, Kriseman and city officials will have to outbid Hillsborough and Tampa to keep the Rays.

In Hillsborough County, Commissioner Ken Hagan said he welcomed the new proposal.

"No more time will be wasted on attacking this issue," said Hagan, a longtime proponent of bringing major-league baseball across the bay. "This is good news for the entire Tampa Bay region."

Staff writer Sara DiNatale contributed to this report. Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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