The Rays and the Mayor of St. Petersburg Rick Kriseman brought what was effectively an amendment to the Rays lease of Tropicana Field to the St. Petersburg City Council in late 2014, requesting a termination payout structure to be put in place, and permission for the team to explore new stadium locations. Either activity is currently strictly prohibited.
After a public debate, the City Council denied a Rays search over a minor monetary amount, with many council members taking offense that the team was not interested in negotiating in public forums.
The sticking point were any profits that might have been had if the City redeveloped a portion of Tropicana Field's 80-acres while the team still occupied the site. Under the current agreement, the team and City split profits equally.
Practically, this would involve the Rays surrendering a parking lot for a new building to be built, a possible profit of a few thousand dollars. The Rays did not want to open negotiations over such a trivial matter, in fact they have no interest in redevelopment! As principal owner Stu Sternberg recently told the Tampa Bay Times:
Times: If you play at the Trop while building a new stadium somewhere else, and the city develops some of the Trop acreage, what share of dollars would you want?
Sternberg: None. I don't want construction on my front door while we are playing baseball. We need parking, we need access. I would not say absolutely no, but the important part of this thing is that I am not looking for any monetary benefit for any development.
The Rays have since withdrawn from any future Council meetings, taking issue with several accusations of "arrogance" by council members, and what Sternberg an alarming "mob mentality" at the previous meeting.
In turn, Mayor Kriseman has persisted in re-writing and re-negotiating with the Rays, in hopes of securing a monetary payout for his City (as opposed to the Rays simply not renewing their lease in 2028), and allowing the Rays to look for a new site (which would all but guarantee the team is not sold and moved to a new region).
Kriseman's plan was brought to the council, with 100% of re-development profits directed to the City, but the Council will not consider it this time around.
Surprisingly, this news was announced via statement from the Rays' principal owner:
Tampa Bay Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg issued the following statement regarding the decision by Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes not to place the memorandum of understanding on the agenda:
"We appreciate the time and attention that Mayor Kriseman, Chairman Gerdes and the rest of the City Council have dedicated to this issue. We have spent many months working towards an agreement, so it is disappointing not to be able to move forward cooperatively with St. Petersburg."
The press release ends there. Disappointment is understandable.
In opposition to any real research on the topic of stadium relocation, the City Council held a "Stadium Workshop" last month in which the Council conversationally decided Tropicana Field was the only viable solution for the Rays to exist in Tampa Bay. Which is to say, their city of St. Petersburg is the only solution.
The Rays owner has already made two intentions very clear: that the Rays must be allowed to explore all options in Tampa Bay for their next stadium in order to have a long term solution, and that the search will begin by 2022 with or without City Council approval due to necessity. The Team and Council are at odds.
Separately, Sternberg has also said that without a new stadium, the Rays will be sold and likely moved out of Tampa Bay. By denying consideration of the amended agreement, particularly after efforts by the Rays to re-negotiate the deal to meet the Council's concerns, means the Rays are that much closer to leaving Tampa Bay.
The team is being backed into a corner, being legally unable to search for a new stadium means the ownership's prospects of staying long term in the area are not bright. How will that impact their pending negotiations for a new television contract? Will profits from admissions ever improve?
Baseball has never been more profitable, but the Council is suppressing the team's future value by handcuffing the franchise to Tropicana Field.
Not only will the City ultimately lose the Tampa Bay Rays after 2027, but they will gain nothing in letting the team walk. The team might even vacate the region entirely, and the St. Petersburg City Council will only have themselves to blame.