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Rays near agreement with St. Petersburg to allow Hillsborough stadium search

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Nohlgren and Charlie Frago, writers for the Tampa Bay Times, reported this afternoon that the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg have an agreement in place to allow the Rays to explore neighboring Hillsborough County for a possible stadium location.

One source for the Tampa Bay Times indicates a deal should be done "within the next month but definitely before Christmas," based on St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman's self-imposed timeline for City Counsel approval.

Other sources names report:

Council member Charlie Gerdes said Kriseman told him about two weeks ago "that talks are going very well.''

St. Petersburg developer Craig Sher, who chaired a stadium advisory committee for Kriseman, said this week, "I have been led to believe that there is an agreement in principle.''

It would appear that the next step is for St. Pete's lawyers to settle on a monetary fee to allow the Rays to look in the rival county, home to the city of Tampa.

The City Council had previously voted down an amendment to the Rays' lease to allow search for a new stadium site for a fee, but that measure failed by one vote under the guidance of former mayor Bill Foster.

In painting himself a different candidate, Rick Kriseman ran on a platform that included support of the Rays looking elsewhere if that kept them in the Tampa Bay market.

"If the Rays simply do not want to be here any longer, then they should be given the opportunity to compensate our city in order to look at other locations in the Tampa Bay area,'' Kriseman said during last year's mayoral campaign. "Throughout the negotiating process I will ensure that our taxpayers are protected."

With rumors moving from simmer to boil in Montreal, the timing couldn't be better for the Rays to find traction.

As we reported earlier this morning, the French newspapers have begun naming specific investors interested in purchasing the Tampa Bay Rays and moving them to Montreal, including son of the Expos' original owner Stephen Bronfman, and the Bell corporation -- each powerful voices.

The Tampa Bay Times piece also shares some missing details on what nearly was, back when Foster was looking to save face with the franchise and city interests he'd fought to protect. The Rays had nearly negotiated a buyout clause of the restrictive lease:

...last summer, Foster and the Rays came close to a deal based on a different compensation scheme. There would be no up-front fee just to go look - but the final buyout price would be arranged in advance.

Foster reportedly was asking about $5 million for each season lost, and the Rays were reportedly offering around $2 million to $3 million. Those talks broke down last August during a heated mayoral primary.

These dollar amounts help give a focus for the dollar amounts that might be structured for the Rays to move away from Pinellas county. Should the team move, the property currently occupied by the Trop would be freed up for different investments and expanding the downtown core of St. Petersburg.

Possible Rays sites in Hillsborough County have already been detailed Downtown at Channelside on land owned by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his investors (who have ties to Coors Field's development), as well as 60-acres near the airport in Westshore, currently occupied by three dated public schools.