“The future is now,” St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Ed Montanari recently tweeted about the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium saga, a saga which began about 13 years ago. On this, Ed Montanari and I agree.
The future is now, which is why so many in our community are disappointed with the City Council’s refusal to move forward with redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. It is not yet clear whether a new stadium will be included in such redevelopment. But what is clear is that jobs, housing, green space, and opportunity will be, and space for a new stadium can ultimately be set aside — or not.
A stadium as an anchor for the site is my preference, and there is enthusiasm throughout our community to both redevelop the site and keep our Rays in St. Pete for decades to come. For this to occur, the leadership of the team must first be willing to reestablish serious negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Asking the city to transfer to them total control of more than 35 acres, for a team that will only play one half its games here, is not an offer I can seriously consider. As I have stated on numerous occasions, my job is to look out for our community’s best interests, protect our taxpayers and honor the historical significance of the site. I will always do that.
Secondly, I have stated repeatedly that clarity related to potential implications of a recent lawsuit filed against the team’s principal owner was needed before I could reengage the Rays in negotiations. A recent Tampa Bay Times editorial referred to the lawsuit as an “internal dispute,” a faulty characterization considering that allegations in the complaint required a review of the Tampa Bay Rays’ compliance with its use agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. It was for this reason that our city attorney advised that I refrain from negotiating with the team until this review could be conducted, and I am pleased that recent information shared with us led to the determination that the city is not currently aware of a default of the use agreement.
Upon becoming mayor, I immediately set out to repair the city’s relationship with our hometown team. I did that. Halfway through my first term, in an attempt to secure Major League Baseball in our region indefinitely, I successfully negotiated an agreement with the team that allowed them three years to explore Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site (both the team and our neighboring communities failed to make progress during this period), and I remain the only elected official in North America who has ever been able to strike a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
While legal guidance and good sense informed my recent negotiating position, I will not allow an orchestrated narrative to suggest that I am the roadblock to progress — not when the team has refused to provide any feedback on our redevelopment proposals or meet with the development firms, and not when our City Council, led by the Chair Montanari, has consistently placed the future of the Rays ahead of our community and ahead of the benefits to the community of redeveloping the site.
Because I am not currently aware of a default of the use agreement, because of our past negotiating success, because I have demonstrated an ability to balance being a steward of public dollars with our community’s hopes and dreams for the site and the benefit of keeping the team here, I have reached out to the leadership of the Tampa Bay Rays to restart negotiations with the city and county. We have reached agreements before and we can do it again, and we can forever put this distraction to bed and turn our undivided attention to the outstanding product on the field.
I have nearly seven more months remaining in my term as mayor, and the luxury of not worrying about my next step in public service. I know we are in a political season and a time of change here in St. Pete, but my job is to transcend the politics of today and ensure we continue our steady march toward a better and brighter tomorrow. I look forward to the City Council, the Tampa Bay Rays, and our local chamber of commerce joining with me in recognizing the urgency of now as it relates to the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and constructive negotiations. We can do both at the same time. We just have to be willing to do so.
Rick Kriseman is the mayor of St. Petersburg.