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Vote on Rays stadium deal is delayed a week

Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, right, and St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, left, on Tuesday announced an agreement which allows the Rays to look at potential new stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas. [MAURICE RIVENBARK | Times]
Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, right, and St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, left, on Tuesday announced an agreement which allows the Rays to look at potential new stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas. [MAURICE RIVENBARK | Times]
Published Dec. 11, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — A day after announcing what he called an unprecedented agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for stadium sites in Hillsborough County, Mayor Rick Kriseman asked the City Council on Wednesday to delay a vote on the deal for a week.

A vigorous lobbying effort by Kriseman and Rays executives fell short of persuading uneasy council members to support the complex deal right away.

Several council members said they wanted more time to digest the eight-page memorandum of understanding about the stadium deal, and three days wasn't enough.

"I did hear concerns from council members and I'd rather make sure they understand the agreement and delay it a week," Kriseman said.

But although council members don't want to be rushed, a backlash doesn't appear to be building.

So far, public opinion on the deal appears muted, to judge from emails and phone calls to City Hall.

Council member Charlie Gerdes, who long has been vocal on stadium issues, said he has only heard from reporters asking about the deal.

"I think generally the public is ready and wants to get on with it," Gerdes said.

Kriseman asked council Chairman Bill Dudley to reschedule the vote for the Dec. 18 council meeting, and Dudley agreed.

Rays president Brian Auld said the team understands the mayor's move.

"We don't mind waiting another week. We've been working on this for a very long time,'' Auld said. "We hope to get to yes when the time comes."

It was Kriseman's decision earlier in the week to push for a quick vote. After reversing course Wednesday, he said that he wasn't interested in dwelling on his initial choice.

"Hindsight is always easier," he said. "I really felt that we could answer the questions and get the information that council needed in time to do it Thursday, but after speaking with council members it became apparent that the comfort level wasn't there."

Did Kriseman err in trying to get council approval so quickly?

"I don't have an opinion on that," Auld said.

Delaying the vote was first broached Tuesday by council member Jim Kennedy, who questioned the wisdom of scheduling the issue on a meeting day usually reserved for awards and presentations. Public comment usually isn't taken at such meetings, though it would have been had the vote gone ahead as first scheduled.

Kennedy said he appreciated Kriseman's decision to cooperate with council.

"I'm very grateful to the mayor for pulling back on it," Kennedy said. "It makes it much more organized, much more businesslike. It's good our citizens will know what we're doing and when we're doing it."

Kennedy hasn't met with Rays officials, but plans to do so. He has concerns about the agreement, but declined to comment on specifics, saying he wanted to discuss them first with the team.

Dudley said Auld, development vice president Melanie Lenz and corporate communications senior director Rafaela Amador said all the right things about St. Petersburg when they met with him Wednesday morning at City Hall.

Auld praised the city's recent renaissance, Dudley said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic" that the council will ultimately approve a deal to let the Rays look for a new stadium outside city limits, Dudley said.

The agreement would have the Rays pay the city between $2 million and $4 million for each season, or part of a season, that is not played at Tropicana Field until the contract expires in 2027.

The Rays would provide up to $1 million in signs, season tickets and other in-kind compensation. Unpaid bonds —likely about $9 million or less — would probably be rolled into a new stadium package, Kriseman has said.

If the Rays find a new stadium site in Hillsborough or elsewhere in Pinellas, they would negotiate a second agreement to terminate the current Trop contract. As it stands, the council couldn't reject that agreement unless it substantially differed from the terms of the memorandum.

That still bothers Nurse, who also wants the agreement to spell out more clearly the city's protection from any unpaid bonds on the Trop.

"I want to be real clear on that," Nurse said.

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