Rays stadium headlines not going away anytime soon

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From now until, well, whenever, baseball fans are going to be speculating about where the Rays are going to land now that they can talk to Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas about future stadium prospects.

Prepare for headlines. Lots and lots of headlines. Prepare for commentary. Lots and lots of commentary. For now, that commentary is revolving around whether or not St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman screwed the pooch with his lackluster $20(ish) million (maybe) deal with the Rays to let them look outside the city.

In an analysis by the Tampa Tribune’s Chris O’Donnell this weekend, he notes that figure is far less than other baseball franchises have ponied up to get out of their contracts.

In 2008, the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics paid $45 million to move to Oklahoma City. The Detroit Lions were sued for more than $100 million in damages after breaking its lease on the Silverdome in 2000. Ultimately they paid $26 million, which is about $35 million today.

The question now remains, will the agreement between Kriseman and the Rays even hold up when City Council votes on it this week? City council members, during a meeting last week, asked for more time to look over the deal before voting. They got the extra time, but Kriseman pointed out any changes would leave the “Memorandum of Understanding” dead in the water.

WTSP investigative reporter Noah Pransky speculates in his blog, Shadow of the Stadium, the Rays are effectively playing hardball with St. Pete and Mayor Kriseman in refusing to flinch. Indeed, President Brian Auld pointed out during a press conference that any more of an ask from the city would have resulted in the franchise being unable to move forward with any other business deals.

The whole thing seems to be the baseball boondoggle of all boondoggles. Tampa Bay Lighting President Jeff Vinik has indicated the Rays have no place in the downtown property next to Amelie Arena. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during a press conference responding to the Rays’ deal with St. Pete that a Tampa stadium would require the team to come to the table with an awful lot to offer and that a referendum wouldn’t happen.

Possible spaces in Tampa are limited. The Con Agra site would require purchasing the land on top of building a potentially $400 million stadium and traffic in and out of the site could be terrible.

As far as St. Pete is concerned, the waterfront site the Rays had once eyed for an open-air stadium is pretty much off the table now that St. Pete businessman Bill Edwards has nabbed Al Lang for his Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team.

All in all the take-away is this – the Rays are a long way away from leaving the Trop. Their future in Tampa Bay isn’t set in stone and where a new stadium will end up and what it will look like is completely up in the air. What does that mean for Tampa Bay? Well, if nothing else it means good fodder for reporters for years to come.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.