St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman reportedly nearing deal allowing Rays to explore Tampa stadium sites

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is reportedly near a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays are to allow the team to consider stadium sites in Hillsborough County.

Kriseman “would like to get it done within the next month,” said City Council Chair Bill Dudley, “but definitely before Christmas.” A proposal would need approval from the Council, report Stephen Nohlgren and Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times.

Kriseman told Council member Charlie Gerdes about two weeks ago that the talks are “going very well.”

As the chair of Kriseman’s stadium advisory board, developer Craig Sher also told the Times that he is certain there is “an agreement in principle.”

One essential component of any deal would be compensation, said Dudley, who holds weekly meetings with the mayor. Money will be an issue if the Rays leave for Tampa before 2027, the expiration of the Tropicana Field contract.

Dudley could not confirm the number, but he did say that city lawyers are working the language of the deal “to protect our interests.”

Announcements of stadium deals often take place late in the year, to avoid any controversy with Major League Baseball during the season. By November, the World Series is over and spring training is months away.

With weak attendance numbers, both the Rays and owner Stuart Sternberg have been pushing for a new stadium for years, arguing that the Trop’s location hinders support from fans and corporate sponsors.

Sternberg told commissioners in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties he wants to remain in the Tampa Bay region, but only if there is a “pitch perfect” site. That requires looking in both counties.

The current contract prohibits the Rays from negotiating for a new stadium before 2028, a provision that former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster used to block any search outside of South Pinellas County.

Kriseman, Foster’s successor, resolved to make Rays a top priority, adding that he wants the team to stay in St. Petersburg.

However, Kriseman also believes a two-county search for a stadium site could help keep them in the region.

“If the Rays simply do not want to be here any longer,” Kriseman told the Times last year, “then they should be given the opportunity to compensate our city in order to look at other locations in the Tampa Bay area.”

“Throughout the negotiating process,” he added, “I will ensure that our taxpayers are protected.”

Compensation has been a sticking point in negotiations, Nohlgren and Frago write.

Gerdes suggested last year that the Rays pay a fee for the right to go search in Hillsborough, with a negotiated buyout price if the team found a suitable stadium deal across the Bay.

As part of the plan, the Rays would pay to tear down Tropicana Field.

The proposal did not gain any traction with the Council.

Another contentious issue is the rising value of the 85 acres of the Trop, which is vacant during most of the year. Since it is county property, the land does not generate taxes.

The Rays probably will not find the ideal location in Hillsborough County, Gerdes said. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik purchased much of the prime real estate in Tampa’s Channelside district. Vinik has given no indication he is willing to set aside 10 or 12 acres needed for a baseball stadium.

Beyond land costs, Gerdes estimates a stadium would cost between $500 million and $600 million — something Hillsborough taxpayers would be hesitant to pay.

Gerdes told the Times that many of the sites in Tampa are no longer available.

“St. Petersburg’s chances of keeping them in Pinellas County are increasing,” he said. “I think we have the competitive advantage, so let them go look.”

Before anything else, Kriseman has to sell a Rays deal to the City Council, which is not guaranteed.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.