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St. Pete City Council to ask Pinellas commissioners to hold off on allocating bed tax dollars until Rays deal is secured

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

There’s not much going on at St. Pete City Council this week. The board is faced with only a handful of presentations from various groups around town and a change to an existing resolution.

Even though nothing substantive is planned this week, the issue at hand is a biggie.

The eight-member City Council is tasked with approving a revised resolution that would ask the Tourist Development Council and Pinellas County Commission to not allocate any tourist development funding that was previously used for debt service to Tropicana Field until officials know whether or not the Tampa Bay Rays will build a new stadium in St. Pete or Pinellas County.

The move comes as plans continue to materialize around a potential $662 million sports facility to house Spring Training for the Atlanta Braves at the Toytown site that formerly served as a landfill.

Earlier this week, the Pinellas County Commission tabled a conversation about using a portion of the county’s bed tax for that facility because they didn’t know whether St. Pete would reach an agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the team to explore alternative stadium sites outside the city.

About $6.5 million a year in bed tax funds was freed up after debt on Tropicana Field was paid off. Since then there have been mounting conversations about whether to earmark that money for another Rays stadium or put the funds to use somewhere else.

In a meeting Tuesday, Pinellas County commissioners hesitated to back the Braves plan because the future of the Rays is up in the air. There’s simply not enough tourist development dollars to back both.

The move is likely to put pressure on a divided City Council split 4-4 over the most recent version of a deal brokered between St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Major League Baseball team.

City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes has said he plans to have another deal available for a City Council vote by the end of the year and before new Council members are sworn in. He’s confident he can convert at least one no vote to a yes to show the Rays there is a deal Council is willing to back.

If his plan works, however, it would still have to be agreed to by the Rays. It’s a backward version of the way the original Memorandum of Understanding was crafted. In that process, Kriseman worked behind closed doors with Rays leadership and attorneys to hash out details and then took that plan to Council.

Under Gerdes’ plan, Council would pre-approve a plan and then send it off to the Rays to sign off on.

The proposed updated resolution asks the TDC and Pinellas County Commission to understand that City Council is working to have a deal sealed soon and hold off on any funding promises.

Pinellas County commissioners have already tabled those discussions until November. The move is largely symbolic.

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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