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St. Pete City Council agrees to Rays deal more than double the previous MOU

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St. Pete City Council approved a new version of a deal to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for possible stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg. Two deals were on the table during a special meeting Thursday — one from chair Charlie Gerdes, the other from Jim Kennedy.

The Kennedy plan was approved by a 5-3 vote. Gerdes, Darden Rice and Amy Foster voted against it.

Under Kennedy’s plan, the Rays would have to pay St. Pete $4 million a year for every year they play baseball in Hillsborough County until  the team’s use agreement with the city expires in 2027. If they moved outside of St. Pete but stayed in Pinellas, that figure would be $2 million a year. Staying in St. Pete wouldn’t cost a dime.

Kennedy’s plan also includes a one-time redevelopment fee aimed at helping the city re-imagine the Tropicana Field site. If the team moved to Hillsborough that would be $5 million. If they stayed in Pinellas, but not in St. Pete, it would be $2.5 million.

If the Rays left Tropicana Field in 2020 — a lofty ambition if ever there was one — the Rays would pay the city about $33 million to wiggle out of their iron-clad lease. That’s more than double the approximately $16 million price tag on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s failed Memorandum of Understanding and $11 million more than Gerdes’ plan would have demanded.

The vote means City Council has now sent a deal he can take to the Rays with confidence that it will be approved by council if the Rays agree to it.

But there could be a problem with that. The Rays don’t have to agree to anything and they’ve indicated before that they would not agree to any agreement that was more than the original proposal.

“Typically as time passes deals don’t get better,” Kriseman said of Kennedy’s plan.

He did promise to bring the deal to the Rays “in good faith.”

Gerdes, who scheduled the meeting to deliver his plan before Kennedy drew up his own, worried Kennedy’s ballooned price tag could do more harm than good.

“Your $4 million payment will get a reaction that’s not helpful to a continuing dialogue,” Gerdes said. “It might get us a response that says, look we’ll just start looking for 2028.”

Wengay Newton, one of the four no-votes on Kriseman’s MOU, brought a new topic into conversation. He wants development revenue at Tropicana Field to be included in the Southside TIF district. That would infuse millions of dollars into the deeply impoverished Midtown neighborhood.

It’s not the first time the idea has been brought up. That plan is a key point in Newton’s brother’s idea for a deal with the Rays. Will Newton is running to replace his brother.

However, the idea went nowhere. First, the city’s legal department pointed out that wouldn’t be an appropriate stipulation in the MOU because it has nothing to do with the Rays. The county determines boundaries for Tax Incremental Financing districts.

Then Karl Nurse also pointed out, the revenue from development on the site would be needed to fund a new stadium if the Rays decided to stay put.

During comments, Kriseman said he’s still confident the Rays will choose to keep St. Pete as its home. He listed several reasons, including access from all parts of the region and a unique funding source as a result of the county bed tax money available to help fund a new stadium.

The nearly decade-old stalemate on the issues was pushed into hyper-drive this month when Pinellas county commissioners basically threatened to take those dollars off the table and instead use them to help fund a Toytown development that would create a state-of-the-art facility for the Atlanta Braves to use for Spring Training.

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.

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