Editorial: The path forward on Rays' stadium stalemate

Published Jan. 2, 2015

As everyone returns to work this week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman should move quickly to salvage an agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays that the City Council unwisely rejected last month. His first calls should be to council members to determine whether their concerns about development rights at Tropicana Field are the real reason they refused to break the stadium stalemate, or a convenient excuse to justify hurt feelings.

The council voted 5-3 against a reasonable compromise negotiated by Kriseman and the Rays that would let the team look for stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Council members were irritated by the Rays' response to a question about whether the team would retain rights to share proceeds from development on the Trop site even after it decided to leave. Rays president Brian Auld accurately answered that the Rays' use agreement for the dome calls for those proceeds to be shared and said the issue could be resolved later. But he spoke like a hard negotiator when council members wanted a warmer, more accommodating response.

Now council members who have been so protective of the use agreement that calls for the Rays to play at Tropicana Field until 2027 want to essentially open up that agreement over development rights. The reality is more complicated than the rhetoric. The rejected compromise would allow the Rays to look for new stadium sites for up to three years. If the Rays chose to leave, they could wind up playing in the Trop for an additional three or four years while arranging financing and building a new stadium in Pinellas or Hillsborough. In that time, the city would want to explore redeveloping all or part of the Trop's 85 acres.

Some council members suggest the Rays could receive tens of millions of dollars if the city sold the entire site to a developer while the Rays were still playing there. That is implausible and not contemplated by the Rays or Kriseman, and the concern could be easily resolved in a few additional sentences in the compromise. If the council's concern is sharing with the Rays proceeds from development on part of the Tropicana Field site in the period before the Rays moved, that is more complicated and not easily addressed now. The city would be shortsighted to sell off part of the site when its best value is its size for a planned development, and a piecemeal approach would create parking issues and other problems for the Rays. It's difficult to put a value on those partial development rights now, and the Rays likely would counter by lowering their proposed payments to the city for leaving before the use agreement expires.

The development rights issue was best left to be negotiated if and when the Rays decided on a new stadium site, but Kriseman and the Rays can address the council's worst-case scenario. First, though, the mayor has to determine whether that would be enough to persuade at least two council members to change their vote and break a stalemate that does not benefit St. Petersburg taxpayers or Tampa Bay.