ST. PETERSBURG — The precise language of the resolution passed by the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday is rather formal. If you’re not well versed in the verbiage of governmental agencies, allow me to interpret: Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Rays! Rays! Rays!
And if you play the recording of the Council meeting backwards it says: Stick it, Mayor Kriseman.
Yes, there are several clear conclusions to be drawn from the way Council members questioned Rays ownership — or rather, failed to question Rays ownership — about the proposed redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.
1. The Rays have done a masterful job of lobbying individual Council members in private. They’ve convinced at least six of the eight members that it’s worth exploring the sister city concept with Montreal, which is an impressive turnaround considering how tepid enthusiasm was for that concept just a short time ago.
2. The Council reaaaaaalllly doesn’t like Rick Kriseman’s administration, and basically hung the mayor out to dry.
3. Next mayor up.
For the average Rays fan, this was probably good news. Kriseman has been pushing to hire a developer for the Tropicana site despite not having a deal in place with the team, and the Council just threw a bucket of ice on that plan by suggesting it will not approve a development deal. Now the Rays are back at the table when it comes to redevelopment talks, and a solution is not likely to be found until a new mayor replaces the term-limited Kriseman in January.
For the average taxpayer, it’s a little harder to decipher. Losing the Rays would stink, no doubt about that. It would stink economically, it would stink reputationally, it would stink from a quality-of-life perspective.
So Council members did the right thing by stomping on the brakes of Kriseman’s runaway bulldozer, but they did nothing to assure St. Pete residents that they can be trusted to be dutiful watchdogs when the day finally comes to making the difficult choice of potentially spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stadium for a part-time team.
The whole point of Thursday’s meeting was for the Council to hear from the Rays, who said nothing that they haven’t said in public a dozen times before. Yet not one Council member asked a question that could be remotely described as probing.
How much would a part-time stadium cost? How much are the Rays willing to pay? Why should the city give the team complete control over 25 acres of development, as Kriseman has suggested was part of the team’s proposal? What minimum guarantees will there be for the number of regular-season and postseason games in the split plan?
What happens if Montreal doesn’t get a stadium built? What happens if Major League Baseball’s Players Association does not sign off on this? Is there no scenario where the Rays remain in Tampa Bay full time? How can St. Pete be sure this isn’t a ploy to eventually move to Tampa or elsewhere?
Maybe Council members have asked these questions in private, but why not ask them in a public setting so residents could hear the answers for themselves? Basically, the Council begged for a turn at the plate, then didn’t even take a swing.
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While the tenor of the Council meeting suggested there will be no solution until the next mayoral administration, both Kriseman and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg told me afterward that they are open to continuing talks.
“We’re trying to get things done. It sounds like the Council would like to get things done,” Sternberg said. “The mayor can move things along, or continue with his own process. I can’t say what’s right or wrong. In fairness he is the one who did reach out to us last summer.”
Kriseman, who has been very critical of the split season plan, said he would be willing to discuss the issue with the Rays, but is adamant the city’s general revenue funds will not be used on a part-time stadium. He also said he will not allow large parcels of land to be out of the city’s control because he wants to make sure that long-ago promises of providing opportunities for the surrounding community comes to fruition.
The concern is the Rays would maximize the revenues for any land they control in order to pay for the stadium, and things like affordable housing would be relegated to the less desirable parcels of land.
“The deal they (originally) presented to me, I could not do and I was very clear as to why,” Kriseman said. “I would expect the community around that property would look at that deal and say, ‘They are doing it to us again.’”
Is there a chance Kriseman and the Rays find common ground before 2021 ends? I would seriously doubt it. If anything, the Council’s obsequious performance on Thursday emboldened the Rays and annoyed the mayor.
But, in a big-picture sense, the Council did the right thing by throwing up a road block.
It made no sense to begin the redevelopment process without knowing whether a baseball stadium will be part of the process, and it’s best to have a new mayoral administration make that call.
Is the Montreal play feasible? Smart? Real?
Unfortunately, we are no closer to answering any of those questions today. But at least we have more time to consider them, and that’s a good thing.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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