The St. Petersburg City Council's vote today on a proposed agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays to let the team look for stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties is a pivotal moment for the city and the region. Here are six reasons council members should approve the deal negotiated by Mayor Rick Kriseman and move forward:
1. St. Petersburg taxpayers are protected. The Rays would not leave Tropicana Field before 2018. If they left before the lease expires in 2027, the franchise would make reasonable payments to the city for every year remaining on the lease based on a sliding scale. More importantly, the Rays would not receive any money from the redevelopment of the Trop site if they leave.
2. Redevelopment can be pursued. The city can hire a consultant to develop a master plan for the 85-acre Trop site with or without a stadium, and the Rays will pay half of the cost up to $100,000. Any money from redevelopment will be placed into an escrow account, and the team will get its equal share of the money only if it stays. A developer could help pay for a new stadium at the site or partner with the Rays.
3. Local governments can move forward. Pinellas County should know within months whether it should preserve resort tax money that could help pay for a new stadium. Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa finally can make a stadium pitch. St. Petersburg and Pinellas can refocus on how they would replace Tropicana Field and how they would help pay for it.
4. A regional asset can be protected. No region wants to lose a major league franchise, and Tropicana Field is outdated. This deal allows the Rays to work with local governments in both counties and find the best stadium site that would help ensure the team's long-term future. It keeps the franchise focused on Tampa Bay, not looking at other regions with an eye toward leaving in a few years.
5. There's money for nearby neighborhoods. Kriseman has promised that the low-income neighborhoods near the Trop site will receive at least $5 million for redevelopment. The money will come from Trop redevelopment proceeds if the Rays stay or from the team's payments to the city if the Rays leave.
6. It's time. The status quo is not a viable option. With downtown booming, St. Petersburg should pursue redevelopment opportunities now at the Trop site. Every year that goes by is another year that ticks off the Rays' lease, giving the team more leverage and increasing the odds it will leave Tampa Bay. This issue has festered for years under three different mayors. Kriseman has twice failed to persuade the City Council to approve an agreement to let the Rays look at stadium sites in both counties. The revised deal is significantly improved — and neither St. Petersburg nor Tampa Bay can afford strike three.