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Editorial: Time to move forward on Rays deal

 
A new and improved agreement negotiated by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays to let the franchise look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties focuses on the right priorities.
A new and improved agreement negotiated by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays to let the franchise look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties focuses on the right priorities.
Published Jan. 8, 2016

A new and improved agreement negotiated by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays to let the franchise look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties focuses on the right priorities. It would enable the city to move forward with redeveloping the Tropicana Field site with or without a new stadium. It would free the Rays to look for a new home while providing an incentive for the team to stay put. And it would provide a clear path to resolve the stadium issue within three years and end the paralysis that prevents St. Petersburg, the region and the franchise from making long-term decisions.

The most attractive portion of the deal that the St. Petersburg City Council will consider Thursday is the new approach to redeveloping the Trop site's 85 acres. Under the stadium lease that expires in 2027, the city and the Rays evenly split any proceeds from development of the site. That gave some council members heartburn that the Rays could get a windfall and still leave for Tampa, but waiting for years to pursue development would hurt St. Petersburg taxpayers.

A new provision sought by Kriseman fairly addresses that issue. The city would develop a master plan for the site, and the Rays would pay up to $100,000 for half of the cost. Any money from redevelopment would be placed into an escrow account, and the Rays would get their half of the money if they stayed. If the Rays left, the city would keep all of the money. That arrangement would free the city to immediately start envisioning a future for the site with or without a stadium, and it could provide the team with a powerful economic incentive to stay.

More importantly, the changes could dramatically affect the financing of a new stadium on the Trop site and ease the burden on taxpayers. No longer would the cost of a new stadium, which could reach $500 million, have to be covered only by public money and money from the Rays. The deal would enable the city to start working with developers on a plan for the Trop site that could include a new stadium, and the developers could kick in part of the stadium cost. Or a developer could team up with the Rays to transform the site and contribute part of the money for a stadium. The agreement would open up new possibilities rather than limit them.

All of the revisions in this agreement except one came from Kriseman. The Rays removed provisions from the last rejected deal that required regular reports to the city on the team's evaluation of potential stadium sites, which was unworkable. Now the team would publicly describe within 60 days how they would evaluate each site and agree to follow that process. The Rays also agreed to essentially the same payments to the city if they leave that were in last year's rejected deals, which could reach $24 million if they left in 2018. The team could have sought lower payments since another year has ticked off the lease, the City Council has two new members and public opinion has shifted toward ending the stalemate.

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It's a new year and time for a fresh start. Kriseman has negotiated an improved agreement with the Rays that protects city taxpayers, opens the door to redevelopment of the Trop site and provides a path to secure the long-term future of major-league baseball in Tampa Bay. Continuing the stadium stalemate is not productive for anyone. The City Council should approve this agreement next week so the exciting possibilities on both sides of the bay can be fully explored and the region can move forward.