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No rubber stamp from City Council for St. Petersburg's deal with Rays

Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal lets the Rays look in Hillsborough. The City Council will vote the plan tonight.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal lets the Rays look in Hillsborough. The City Council will vote the plan tonight.
Published Dec. 18, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Rubber stamps appear to be scarce at City Hall.

A week after delaying a vote so that council members could get comfortable with a deal to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look across the bay for a new stadium, Mayor Rick Kriseman still might not have the five votes he needs to secure the deal.

Going into today's council meeting, at least three of the eight council members still have serious reservations about the memorandum of understanding negotiated by Kriseman and the team. Some of the others say they are still undecided.

"At this point in time, voting against it is a possibility," said Jim Kennedy, who successfully pushed the vote back one week.

Under terms of the deal, the team would pay the city between $2 million and $4 million a year if it leaves Tropicana Field for another stadium site.

Kennedy said that he doesn't think the Rays are coughing up enough money to break their contract to play at the Trop, which runs through 2027. He also wants the Rays to look at possible St. Petersburg sites first.

Council member Karl Nurse is concerned that the Rays could still get money from redevelopment of the Trop site before a new stadium opens. He wants an assurance that the Rays don't profit from a site they plan to abandon.

"I want to make sure we have a clear path forward to develop the site and make money from it," he said.

Late Wednesday, Nurse said he had been told that his request was denied because it would be a substantive change to the memorandum. Kriseman and the Rays have said they will entertain only minor changes that clarify the existing deal.

"That means I'm not going to sleep much tonight," Nurse said.

Wengay Newton has also spoken negatively of the agreement.

One possible swing vote, Amy Foster, said she wants to listen to the public today before making up her mind.

"There is always something that comes out at the nth hour," Foster said.

Kriseman and his staff has reached out to see which way she's leaning, she said.

Another undecided vote is Chairman Bill Dudley, who said he is still assembling the pros and cons of the deal and might make his final decision on the dais today.

"I'm still in limbo," Dudley said Wednesday. "I'm fighting to keep my emotions out of it and keep it to just the facts. That's a challenge."

Darden Rice and Charlie Gerdes are probably the biggest supporters of the deal. Rice said she's voting yes today in the interests of St. Petersburg and the region.

"As time goes by, it gets cheaper for the Rays to break the contract without much of a consequence," Rice said.

And keeping the team in Tampa Bay trumps intercity bickering, she said.

"We've got to remember this isn't St. Pete versus Tampa," she said. "It's Tampa Bay versus other parts of the country."

Gerdes said that if the council tries to amend the agreement at the meeting, it's essentially rejecting the Rays' offer.

Steve Kornell said he's keeping his options open, but is leaning toward yes.

Newton said that he believes St. Petersburg is capable of supporting major-league baseball and deserves the region's support.

"St. Pete was in the region when they signed the contract. The people who are concerned about losing major-league baseball? They need to come and support the asset where it sits," Newton said.

Kriseman is "comfortable that members of council feel good about this agreement,'' said Ben Kirby, the mayor's spokesman.

The Rays declined to comment.

The meeting begins at 3 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at City Hall.

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report. Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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