The City Council of St. Petersburg has denied a deal that would allow the Rays to look outside the city of St. Petersburg for a new stadium location.
Leading the Rays proposal was Mayor Rick Kriseman, who negotiated the deal, and it's sliding scale of $32 million in payments for the Rays to vacate the lease, should the team want to leave St. Pete.
Addressing the Council, Kriseman said flat out that the dollar amount agreed upon was the most the Rays were willing to pay. Rays president Brian Auld followed by promising the goal of the deal was to "preserve baseball in Tampa Bay... for generations to come."
"I do not want to minimize in any way the obstacles ahead of us," Auld would urge the Council in his closing comments, but said the Rays are not building a new stadium unless the team is "very sure it will solve the problems" they currently face in Tampa Bay.
In the end, this would not persuade the Council.
After the Rays and Kriseman formally announced the agreement reached to allow the Rays to look in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, the City Council initially had three days to consider before voting on the deal.
In fairness to the Council, Mayor Kriseman then requested an extra week be granted for further consideration, and more opportunity for the public to submit comments to the Council and for members to prepare speeches. That culminated in today's meeting, lasting several hours.
As the Council debated, Councilman Gerdes was the first to speak during the debate, and indicated the city had gathered 6x a return on investment from the team's presence, and would make a return on investment in building a new stadium within three years. For that reason, he concluded the city of St. Pete should welcome a new Rays stadium with open arms, and as soon as possible.
However, Gerdes's perspective was a need for a healthy relationship with the team if the Rays were to stay in St. Pete past 2027. He posited that the Rays must be free to explore all opportunities before they would be willing to return to St. Pete.
Gerdes also cautioned from his experience as an attorney that the "use agreement" the Rays have (instead of a lease) is not tandard enough to be held up in a court of law, should the city take action against the team at a later date. "We get 72 cents per ticket," Gerdes reminded the Council, up to $1.4 million in a year the Rays reach the World Series. He urged that would be all the city could sue the Rays for if the team left.
Councilman Wengay Newton countered with a simple argument: "A contract is a contract, and a contract is a contract." He believes there was solid reasoning in making "an ironclad contract" and that it is Rays owner Stu Sternberg's duty to honor that deal. He also cited the recently built stadium in Miami as a great reason for the region to not build a new stadium in either scenario.
The Sticking Point
Councilman Nurse was somewhere in between. He remarked that the earnings from the Rays were incidental to the city itself, but also noted a baseball season runs contrary to the tourism industry. He also noted how, "The administration and the Rays formed [the deal] as being the City Council's final involvement in the Stadium," and did not appear appreciative.
Nurse's closed by questioning President Auld about why the team left out redevelopment rights for the Trop site from the new deal, and asked whether it was fair for the Rays to possibly receive a benefit if the city moved forward with redevelopment.
"If you're going to leave the site," Nurse concluded, then you should "not then get the economic benefit of redevelopment." In response, Auld urged that the Rays would work with the city for the best redevelopment scenario, that it would be an open discussion at a later time.
Councilwoman Rice remarked how the deal was an opportunity to work with the Rays today to prevent the inevitable: the team using all avenues to explore the best future stadium site. "I want the Rays to stay," Rice claimed, but noted, "the window of opportunity to work with the Rays is now."
"I'm not sure I've heard confidence in municipal funding for a new stadium" in Tampa Bay, Rice then admitted, but claimed that if the city thinks the Rays would return to St. Pete, the city "should be the best business partner" possible.
Councilman Jim Kennedy, on the other hand, called the "stalemate" or "impass" for a new stadium the complete fault of the Rays, and their attempts to "fundamentally attack the use agreement." He then called the new deal proposed, "an exit strategy" for the Rays to simply leave.
Kennedy also questioned why the Rays should maintain 50% of redevelopment rights for Tropicana Field if they chose to leave. Rays President Auld echoed that was a separate aspect of the use agreement that could be re-negotiated at a later time.
The concerns of Nurse and Kennedy would lead the central issue for the Council, given their inability to renegotiate with the team on the proposed to deal. The Rays had an appearance of wanting their cake and eating it too. Asking to explore stadium locations outside St. Petersburg, while reserving the right to profit from Tropicana Field's redevelopment, appeared insulting.
A Way Forward?
In good faith, Kennedy then made a motion for the Council to schedule a workshop to discuss building a new stadium within the city of St. Petersburg.
The Council voted on and approved the matter immediately and unanimously, led by Kennedy with the hope to put, "real numbers on the table... that will allow the Rays to realize it's worthwhile to spend some time evaluating what they can do in the City of St. Petersburg," echoing Auld's intent for "the next generation."
The workshop is expected to be scheduled for January of 2015, though it is not likely the Rays will take kindly to the too-little-too-late approach.
An Uncertain Future
Councilman Gerdes closed the comments with 28 second of time he saved for the end. He noted the Rays must be confident they can be successful in Tropicana Field to stay, that a tenant must want to live where the rent. Mayor Rick Kriseman agreed, and noted any business person would reasonably want to explore all options before returning to St. Petersburg, but to shut the team out now would cause them to never want to return.
Neither argument appeared to be persuasive, and the future of baseball in Tampa Bay is now uncertain.
Rays owner Stu Sternberg previously indicated he intends to sell the Rays, most likely to someone who would move the team to another city, if a new stadium agreement could not be reached. He also indicated the Rays had negotiated a fair deal in what would be presented to the Council, and that there was no need to re-negotiate what had already been proposed.
This marks the second time the Council has denied a Rays stadium search in two years.