Two paths in St. Pete on new Rays stadium

Published Feb. 20, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — If nothing else, a City Council workshop Thursday confirmed that St. Petersburg's approach to the Tampa Bay Rays is running on two distinct paths.

Council members, hoping to keep the team in town, kicked around ideas for financing a new stadium — but just in St. Petersburg.

Neither the Rays nor Mayor Rick Kriseman attended the meeting. They are still trying to negotiate terms for letting the team search for stadium sites anywhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

The council voted 5-3 in December to reject Kriseman's first attempt at such a regional stadium search. After Thursday's discussion, one key swing vote indicated that positions are not softening.

"I told Kriseman he should not be surprised by another 'No' vote,'' council member Bill Dudley said, referring to reports that the mayor hopes to bring another deal to the council by April 6, the Rays' opening day.

The workshop — though rambling and repetitive at times — did let council members exchange ideas for a possible St. Petersburg-only solution. Several had expressed dismay that Kriseman's December initiative had forced them into an up-or-down vote with little input.

"This is our team,'' said council member Wengay Newton, wearing a Rays jersey. "We are the only council and the only taxpayer base that controls this (stadium) asset.''

Among the discussion's highlights:

• The council agreed to study the Rays' economic impact on the city. At its March 5 meeting, they will ask Kriseman to propose the scope and cost of commissioning such a study.

"If there is a value to major league baseball, then a study should clarify that," said council member Steve Kornell.

• Though the council expressed hope that Pinellas County's bed tax could help pay off bonds for a new stadium, council member Jim Kennedy said county commissioners have told him they will not reserve any dollars until the Rays or city present them with a concrete plan.

"If we sit back and do not do anything for three or four years, those revenue sources are going to disappear,'' Kennedy said.

• Several council members indicated they might support extending the city's current Trop debt payments — roughly $6 million a year — to build a new stadium.

"I would be comfortable with the existing cash flow,'' Kennedy said. "I look at that as a starting point.''

• Surrounding a new ballpark with mixed-use development on the Trop's 85 acres was viewed as another possible source of stadium financing, because it would increase property tax receipts.

Council member Karl Nurse cautioned that some types of development — like apartment buildings — would require more city services than others.

"One thing that is a critical need is office buildings,'' Nurse said. "Office buildings generate far more revenue and generate far fewer costs.''

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• Council members also said they wanted more communication with Kriseman before he brings any more stadium proposals before the council.

"A smart CEO would never negotiate without knowing what its board of directors is thinking," said council member Amy Foster.

Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman, said Foster should know better.

The "City Council is not the mayor's board of directors,'' Kirby said. "The people are."

The workshop also underscored some schisms on the council. Gerdes, Nurse and Darden Rice — who voted with Kriseman in December — said letting the Rays search for sites in Hillsborough County might be the quickest way to get a new stadium in St. Petersburg.

The Rays have insisted since 2010 that they will not consider any site unless they can evaluate all regional options before their contract on the Trop expires in 2027. The council is not going to change that unilaterally, Rice said.

"Allowing the Rays the flexibility to look within Tampa Bay is the main way we have of keeping them here beyond 2027,'' Rice said. "We have got to stop treating the Rays like our prisoner.''

Kornell wants the proposed impact study to include other ways that the city could spend the money it now dedicates to baseball.

"How much does Joe Smith, St. Petersburg resident, spend when he goes to a baseball game instead of a play at American Stage?'' Kornell said. "People say (baseball) is priceless. That's a little scary to me.''

Dudley said he could be persuaded to vote for a regional stadium search, but only if it only takes 18 months or less. Kriseman's previous proposal would have given them up to three years.

The Rays declined to comment.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago. Contact Stephen Nohlgren at or (727) 893-8422.