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Romano: Credit council members for stepping up to the plate on Rays' deal

If finding a permanent home in Tampa Bay is truly the goal, then Rays owner Stu Sternberg needs to find some wiggle room in his final offer, John Romano writes. [Getty Images]
If finding a permanent home in Tampa Bay is truly the goal, then Rays owner Stu Sternberg needs to find some wiggle room in his final offer, John Romano writes. [Getty Images]
Published Oct. 20, 2015

The Rays cannot be happy about this. I would assume the mayor is not, either.

Their take-it-or-leave-it deal to allow the baseball team to begin looking around the market for a future stadium site has now gone from rejection to revision.

Two St. Petersburg City Council members have offered new plans that involve higher financial returns for the city, but the same end result for the stadium search.

So where are we now?

Well, either new deal would cost the mayor some glory.

They would also cost the Rays some extra millions.

And I would argue both are a small price to pay.

Mayor Rick Kriseman deserves kudos for getting the city close to a deal, but he'll have to share the credit if the council gets the save, if not the victory, in relief.

And if finding a permanent home in Tampa Bay is truly the goal, then Rays owner Stu Sternberg needs to find some wiggle room in his final offer.

After all, everyone already agrees the stakes are tremendously high. A city's future development hangs in the balance along with a baseball franchise's economic viability.

So how do we not find a compromise in the coming days? The gap in money is significant, but it should not be insurmountable.

For argument's sake, let's assume the Rays are not going to leave Tropicana Field until after the 2020 season. And that's an aggressive timetable.

It gives them a year to figure out the best location for a stadium, a year to figure out financing, and three years to build a new home.

If that's the case, the original proposal would have the Rays paying St. Pete $15 million if they moved to Hillsborough County. The details are slightly different, but a proposal by council chairman Charlie Gerdes could cost the Rays around $22 million. Another deal offered by council member Jim Kennedy would end up near $33 million.

So that means the Rays might spend $7 million to $18 million more than they wanted over the course of, roughly, a decade. And those figures would be lower if the team stays at the Trop an extra year or two.

So is all of that a deal breaker? It shouldn't be.

It wasn't that long ago that the Rays paid Pat Burrell $16 million over two seasons to essentially perform like a grumpy, undependable slug.

That ranks as a colossal bungle, but it didn't send the franchise spiraling toward bankruptcy. And neither would these stadium deals.

The Rays are proposing a public/private partnership on a new stadium that could cost as much as $600 million. That means the Gerdes deal would raise the price by a little more than 1 percent. Kennedy's deal would be about 3 percent.

Granted, it's easy for me to suggest Sternberg drop some extra millions to get the deal done. But haven't we been warned that time is of the essence?

It's not as if Sternberg has to pay off those terms right away. (Or ever, if the team doesn't leave the Trop.) And it's possible those extra millions will simply get absorbed in the financing structure of a new stadium deal anyway. (Or in coming payrolls.)

We have been chiding council members about making a potentially historic blunder because they couldn't see the bigger picture.

Well, now the council is offering its own version of a deal. And it's up to the Rays to consider a new version of the bigger picture.

A compromise exists. It's time to find it.