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Rays, St. Petersburg near agreement to allow stadium search

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The Rays and the city of St. Petersburg have never been closer to allowing a Rays stadium search.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays are trapped in an iron-clad lease at Tropicana Field, signed through 2027. The team is legally prohibited from even considering a new stadium outside the St. Petersburg city limits until the lease has ended, and the Rays have made several attempts to have that provision amended.

The use agreement for Tropicana Field is controlled by a locally elected, eight member City Council. Previous proposals ended without a majority decision, which is needed to support any changes in Tropicana Field's lease.

Luckily, with November elections in the rear view mirror, the Council may finally lean in the Rays' favor.

Councilmember Wengay Newton, who opposed all attempts to allow a Rays stadium search, reached his term limit in 2015. His brother then lost the election to Lisa Wheeler-Brown, who campaigned on a platform of re-developing Tropicana Field's 85-acres. She becomes the fourth firm Rays ally on the Council, but a swing vote may be available in newly installed Council chairwoman Amy Foster.

Foster voted against the Rays proposal to allow a stadium search in 2014, but has been in support of the deal with a few modifications, which brings us to this new proposal.

Importantly, it seems that the Rays came to the negotiation table a third time to form this new deal, and Rays President Brian Auld even joined St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman in meeting with each councilmember to propose this new deal, which according to the Tampa Bay Times:

includes some innovations that weren't in prior attempts. Chief among them is a shared account financed by development revenue from the Tropicana Field site. Kriseman said that account could become flush with private money from developers eager to tap into the downtown boom and transform the Trop's 85 acres.

Under the proposal, the Rays would pay up to $100,000 for a city master plan to redevelop Tropicana Field, with or without a stadium. If the team remains in St. Petersburg, the team not only gets the money back, but become eligible for Trop-related redevelopment incentives.

Meanwhile, the team retains "veto rights" on development projects while the Rays still occupy Tropicana Field. This prevents the city from beginning new projects, such as re-developing a parking lot, without the Rays' permission.

Other aspects of the deal include the ability for the Rays to buy out the remainder of Tropicana Field's lease, should the Rays choose to move outside the city limits, with the following provisions:

- The Rays wouldn't be allowed to select a new home for six months so that St. Petersburg would have time to make a case to keep the club.

- The Rays would release a written plan within 60 days of the City Council's approval that provides a general description of how the club will evaluate potential sites. The team wouldn't have to provide quarterly updates.

- The deal would expire after three years if the Rays decide to stay or can't find a new home.

- If the club decides to leave, annual payments would begin at $4 million for 2018, $3 million per year from 2019 to 2022 and $2 million a year 2023 to 2026.

Payments by the team are capped at $24M should the Rays move for the 2018 season, the earliest move date allowed by the new deal. No payment is required from the Rays for vacating Tropicana Field in the final year of the original agreement in 2027.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal January 14th.

You can read the document in full here.