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Top St. Pete headlines in 2015: No. 4 — Tropicana Field

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As 2015 winds down we took a look back at the year’s news in St. Petersburg and came up with a list of the top 10 most interesting happenings. Whether the news evoked outrage in a community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of 2015.

No. 4 — Tropicana Field

The debate over what to do with low attendance at Tampa Bay Rays games has been going on for years transcending multiple Mayors. Never has the issue been more pervasive than in 2015.

The year started out with promise for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who proudly announced in late 2014 that he had struck a deal with the team to allow it to look outside the city for alternative stadium sites. It was a deal he was sure City Council would approve.

It didn’t and the issue continues to loom as another year comes to a close.

The stadium debacle comes with loads of nuance and piles of implications. The Tampa Bay Times estimates that continuing to kick the Rays can down the road is a $500 million mistake, based on losses from the potential economic development of the Tropicana Field site, among other things.

The issue has pit two groups against one another. In one corner are the Times and countless others begging for a deal to let the Rays look. That group thinks it’s the only surefire way to ensure baseball remains in the region beyond 2027 when the Rays’ use agreement to play ball at Tropicana Field expires.

In the other corner are those arguing taxpayer protection. That group contends the Rays should have to pay a hefty fee to modify terms of the use agreement.

The result has been an often times bitter war between the two camps, several failed proposals and heavily influenced elections.

After Kriseman’s 2014 Memorandum of Understanding fell to defeat by a 5-3 vote at City Council, attempts began to shore up the votes needed to move the issue. After making changes to the original plan to ensure St. Pete maintained development rights to the Trop site, the effort still failed.

Eventually, the vote was deadlocked with three of the no-votes on the MOU up for re-election. Bill Dudley’s replacement was chosen early when Ed Montanari was elected unopposed for his seat. Montanari made it clear he would also be a no-vote.

That left City Council member Wengay Newton’s open seat and Steve Kornell’s challenged seat.

The Times launched an all-out war against Kornell endorsing his inexperienced opponent in the race for District 7. Philip Garrett favored the Mayor’s MOU.

The Times also backed Lisa Wheeler-Brown over Wengay Newton’s brother, Will Newton, for that seat based solely on the Rays issue. Wheeler-Brown favored the deal. Newton did not.

Now the question on the table is whether or not Wheeler-Brown’s support for a proposal will ensure the fifth vote needed to finally make progress on a Rays deal. It’s back to the drawing board, though, because the original proposal is now off the table.

The stadium issue has been in stalemate since 2008 after the waterfront stadium deal was quashed. The Rays wanted a new stadium on the waterfront with hopes of boosting attendance.

Since then it’s been a race to wiggle out of the ironclad agreement drafted by the city.

The Rays stadium issue is likely to carry on into 2016, but may do so with slightly less fervor than before. Unless any current City Council member changes their mind on a Rays deal, it’s likely something will happen fairly quickly once Wheeler-Brown steps into office.

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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