After nearly five hours of back and forth and sometimes in a circle debate, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman has walked away from a City Council workshop with one more vote in favor of an agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays look at stadium sites outside of St. Pete in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Council member Amy Foster switched her no on the memorandum of understanding from a “no” to a “yes.”
“I agree this is not enough money,” Foster said about the estimated $16 million-$20 million the city could receive from the Rays if they ditch St. Pete. “But I’m concerned we’re getting caught up in standing our ground.”
Foster’s change of heart came by way of a non-binding straw vote. However, even if she carried that through into an official council vote, the MOU would still fail with four council members holding firm in their rejection.
Those council members are Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton, Jim Kennedy and Bill Dudley. Kornell showed some signs of potentially walking back on his decision, but that would require a substantial financial commitment from the Rays if they left St. Pete — $55 million.
Kornell based that number on a lease buyout between the SuperSonics basketball team and the City of Seattle in which the team agreed to $45 million for a two-year buyout.
The Rays have 12 years left on their contract to play ball in Tropicana Field. That lease agreement sunsets in 2027.
Despite Kornell’s rationale, Kriseman rejected his math, arguing that the two situations are entirely different. The SuperSonics left the region while the mayor’s MOU would only be valid if the team stayed in Tampa Bay. That drastically changes the economic damages when comparing the two cities because, as Kriseman’s explanation goes, St. Pete would still retain some economic impact if the Rays went to Tampa, but would lose it all if they left the area entirely.
Kriseman grew frustrated with not just Kornell, but also Newton and Kennedy, who were vocal in their disapproval of the city’s proposed agreement. He lamented continued rejection of the MOU will secure the end of baseball in Tampa Bay.
Kornell flatly disagreed.
“There’s a possibility they won’t be playing here with that MOU,” Kornell said. He continued, “if you have information you haven’t shared with me …” and then trailed off.
Kornell’s implication was that no one really knows whether the Rays will stay or go regardless of an agreement.
Kriseman said it’s all about giving baseball in Tampa Bay the best chance at survival.
Council also voted on an Urban Land Institute Study on the Tropicana Field site in partnership with the Rays. That vote is also non-binding. Kriseman didn’t say whether it’s a study he’d consider, but he’s rejected a similar request in the past, asking his administration to take an independent look at economic impact of Rays baseball.
He said he’s not sure why he’d pull staff from other city projects to do that without a solid partnership with the Rays.
For blow-by-blow coverage of the meeting, including some occasional frustration, sarcasm and wit, check out our live blog following most of the meeting.