St. Pete City Council approves Urban Land Institute study of Tropicana Field site development

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St. Pete City Council approved an Urban Land Institute study to look at potential ways the Tropicana Field site could benefit the city with or without baseball. The study is expected to be half-funded by the Rays, according to Council member Jim Kennedy.

The vote passed 4-1 with three members absent for the vote. Council chair Charlie Gerdes was the only councilmember present to vote against the plan. Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Darden Rice were absent.

The study would “establish a vision with the development potential and scope of what the projects could include.

Details would include how many and what size residential units would be ideal for the space and how much of the land should be used for non-residential space. It would also evaluate the estimated investment value and how much public space could be provided.

It would estimate the capital costs for a new stadium with and without a retractable roof, estimated time lines for build out under various scenarios and compare potential redevelopment to Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium site and the Atlanta Braves’ new site.

There was plenty of debate on the issue. Councilmember Karl Nurse questioned why the Rays would agree to the study without some sort of provision for the mayor’s proposed Memorandum of Understanding to allow the team to explore alternative stadium sites.

“I can’t imagine them being willing to do that and not considering anything else,” Nurse said.

Kennedy, who placed the item on the Thursday agenda, made it clear to Nurse that he expected the team to move forward with the study absent any other comparisons.

“At this point in time, I believe no matter which road we end up going down with the Tropicana Field site it’s beneficial information for us,” Kennedy said.

Ultimately, that was the mindset that led to the recommendation for the study being approved. The four councilmembers who voted in favor of it, Nurse, Kennedy, Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley, saw value in the study independent of the proposed Memorandum of Understanding currently stuck in stalemate.

Gerdes, the only council member to vote against the study, said he maintains confidence the team will ultimately decide St. Pete is the best place to be. He worried a study could pose questions for the team.

And Nurse, who reluctantly voted in favor of the study, reiterated urgency in taking steps to approve an agreement with the Rays.

“If we don’t have a deal with them by 2020 than they will be talking with cities all over North America,” Nurse said.

The Rays have a contract to play baseball at Tropicana Field that runs through 2027. They are seeking permission from the city to look at alternative stadium sites within the region by offering compensation to the city should they choose to leave.

The council is deadlocked on approving a deal with half of council worrying the compensation offered isn’t good enough. Those in favor of the deal worry that if a compromise isn’t reached soon it will spell the end of baseball in the entire region.

Councilmember Wengay Newton is term-limited out of office at the end of this year. He has been one of the staunch opponents to striking a deal with the Rays. The race to replace him is key because if the new council member votes in favor of the deal it would pass.

Of the two frontrunners in that race one, Lisa Wheeler-Brown has said she would vote for the MOU. The other, Will Newton, said he would eventually, but with a caveat

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.