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St. Petersburg and Pinellas seek consultant to negotiate with Rays

The hired consultant will be stepping into the negotiations at a fraught time.
St. Petersburg is looking to hire a consultant to help it negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays.
St. Petersburg is looking to hire a consultant to help it negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 18
Updated Feb. 18

ST. PETERSBURG — After multiple rounds of stalled talks with the Tampa Bay Rays over the team’s future in St. Petersburg, city and Pinellas County officials are now looking to hire a company that can help them negotiate.

Officials said that this week, they will release a document soliciting companies with a record of successfully negotiating with Major League Baseball or other professional sports franchises on behalf of a municipal government. While negotiations with the team have historically been led by the city, no deal for a new stadium in St. Petersburg can come together without millions of county tourism dollars.

The one-page scope of service sheet requests that companies demonstrate they are qualified in stadium financing, big league ball club economics, negotiating on redevelopment with a pro sports franchise, and helping local government consider stadium financing.

Exactly what services the chosen consultant will provide, and how much those services will cost, has not yet been determined.

The hired consultant will be stepping into the negotiations at a fraught time. City officials are considering proposals for what to build atop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site, an enormous project that is inextricably tied to the fate of the baseball team in St. Petersburg. And last month, Mayor Rick Kriseman held a news conference outside the Trop. He said then that Rays executives, who were in the crowd watching but weren’t invited to speak and who are entitled to development rights on the property through the end of the 2027 season, were asking for too much in their bid to secure public financing for a new stadium and control over the site.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said hiring the consultants will help the city and county focus on the financing and economic impact of a new baseball stadium alone, instead of considering it along with the complicated Trop redevelopment.

“There’s a handful of consultants who have done a majority of major league-type stadiums around the country and we want to solicit their expertise and maybe there’s creative solutions that we haven’t thought of,” Burton said.

Since the end of 2018, when the Rays’ three-year window to explore stadium options in Tampa came to a close, negotiations with the team — which has always been under Kriseman’s purview — have been marked by fits and starts.

Kriseman, eager in 2019 to get the development of the Trop site started, waited for the Rays to give an indication about whether they would like to remain in the city or move on after the end of their Trop lease. The Rays that summer shocked the baseball world with their idea to split home games between new stadiums in the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. The Rays wanted to begin playing split seasons by as early as 2024.

The mayor balked at the idea. He said he would not grant the team the permission it needs to explore that idea for any season before 2028.

Rays officials declined to comment on the hiring of a consultant.