The Rays negotiated for a year with new St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman to find a compromise to the untenable stadium situation. The two parties settled on a new deal that would give the Rays permission to look outside the city limits, in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and provided a buyout from the agreement leasing Tropicana Field, somewhere in the $20-32 million range.
Brought before a City Council that previously struck down a payment plan to allow a Stadium search without a buyout, there was incredible skepticism the Rays could win enough votes for a majority from the eight person Council. Particularly because the Rays were refusing to negotiate the deal any further.
And it nearly happened.
Among the questions levied at the Rays during the Council meeting was regarding redevelopment of the land beneath Tropicana Field, and incredibly valuable 85 acre swath of stadium and parking lots in close proximity to the expanding downtown St. Petersburg.
Currently, if any redevelopment occurs on the 85 acres while the Rays occupy the stadium, the team and the city split revenues evenly. Members of the Council felt this was unfair, given the perception that the Rays would like to leave St. Petersburg all together.
It should be noted this is only a perception, as the Rays have been rather vocal in saying all opportunities around Tampa Bay will be considered for the next stadium site, and that a re-build within the City limits was a real possibility.
The Council ruled that it would launch a workshop to investigate building a new stadium within the City limits in January, something that was bound to happen either way, and the Council will spin that as them taking steps toward middle ground. The Rays need to do the same, even if it's just in perception.
A common theme that has crept up in the fall out from the 5 - No, 3 - Yes vote is that the Rays need to provide better incentives for the City Council to let the Rays walk away, even at the currently negotiated costs.
The Council holds the leverage in negotiations, which is why the Rays refuse to negotiate with anyone other than the Mayor, but the team does have the advantage of keeping the City from re-development in the same way the City is keeping the Rays from new development.
As the Tampa Tribune published on Sunday, the redeveloped land at Tropicana Field could bring in $1.2 billion of construction work to the city, and generate $858 million in tax revenue over the following 35 years. That cash amount is already 27 times more than the regular season ticket revenues generated by the Rays on an annual basis.
The Rays also have an economic impact on the region, however, bringing in out of season travelers and levying something like a $250 million economic benefit for the City every year. The challenge for St. Petersburg would be to replace that impact through re-developing the 85 acres, which is entirely possible.
Development of housing and long term jobs, as opposed to the temporary and part-time positions currently at the Field (or as Councilman Newt called it, "selling popcorn"), could make up the difference.
Owner Stu Sternberg says the Rays were done talking deals, or "re- re- re-negotiating," but as Noah Pransky notes, cooler heads might prevail once the holidays are over, because the gap between the Council and the Rays "really may not even be a big deal."
Again, the compromise to be made is focused on that window of 1-2 years as the Rays prepare to leave Tropicana Field, and revenues begin to be generated by re-development plans at the site. Rays GM Matt Silverman is optimistic that the Rays can bridge that gap, telling Marc Topkin the Rays had "good momentum" and noted he expected talks to continue, "as we work toward an agreeable outcome."
That's a different tone than the hard stance taken preceding the vote, and it's for the best. In an interview with Councilman Karl Nurse, the Tampa Bay Times asked what else the Rays needed to do differently to finalize the deal.
If talks do start up again, should the Rays show more humility?
"More humility? Any humility," Nurse said after Thursday's vote. "Less arrogance."
"They are in a business where they want people to emotionally own the team. That's the nature of the business they're in," Nurse said. "Any time you communicate your disdain for the community, it's bad for business. I don't want to fall in love with a girl that's going to leave me."
Nurse said that when he questions the Rays on that short window of redevelopment profits, he meant to "crack the door open" for the Rays to show they were willing to be partners in finding a new site, to give an air of reasonableness to the Council's perceptions. Instead, Rays president Brian Auld balked at the question.
Now the Rays need to come back to the table. Time is on the Rays side, as the City loses leverage against the contract and gathers opportunity cost in revenues generated from the site with each year that passes. There's hurt pride, possibly two years of shared re-development revenue, a decade of frustration keeping the Rays and the Council apart.
At the end of the day, the Rays may need to give just a little more to gain a lot.