Will the St. Pete City Council approve the Rays deal?

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Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says he intends to pick up the phone and contact Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld on Thursday if the St. Petersburg City Council approves the agreement reached between Mayor Rick Kriseman and the local ballclub. That agreement would permit the Rays to speak to officials outside of St. Petersburg about a new stadium for the first time, and after working on such a proposal for nearly five years, Hagan says he, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others in the county are ready to begin the process.

“I’m confident that the Rays feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m hopeful over the next couple of months we’ll be able to sit down with the goal to determine what the Rays’ long-term needs and priorities are, as well as what they’re willing to consider contributing towards a new funding package.”

However, the question of whether or not the City Council will approve the agreement is in doubt at the present time.

Councilwoman Amy Foster said that she was scheduled to meet with city attorneys as well as officials with the Rays later on Tuesday, because when contacted around 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon — less than 48 hours before she and her colleagues are to decide the issue — she was undecided.

“I think it’s a necessary agreement, and I think we’re close and we’ll get there, but I don’t want to take a stance until I’m sure.” Foster said she has made it clear with city officials that she needed to see all of the financials involved with the agreement today, and not while sitting on the Council on Thursday afternoon.

Councilman Wengay Newton is emphatic that he is against the deal.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” he said early Tuesday. “Here you have a group that has an agreement, a contract that they want to honor and now you get with them again. What’s the chances of them honoring that?” Newton also objected that unlike the deal crafted by Councilman Charlie Gerdes a year ago (that deadlocked at 4-4 and thus didn’t pass), there will be no compensation for the city for even allowing the Rays to amend their original contract with the City in looking for new sites. And he somewhat cynically suggested that a deal for the team to relocate to Tampa was already done. “They should honor their contract,” he says flatly.

Former Mayor Bill Foster added his voice to the discussion on Tuesday afternoon, sending a sharply written letter to the Council about the need to improve the agreement that Mayor Kriseman and the Rays have arrived at.

Another Council member who doesn’t like the deal as formulated is Karl Nurse. SaintPetersBlog’s Janelle Irwin reports that Nurse believes the current language doesn’t give City Council enough of a say moving forward. But Council member Amy Foster says of all the issues she’s contending with, that one’s not a priority.  “I don’t like it, but that seems to be a necessary evil,” she says about the provision shutting the Council out when it comes to the Rays if they approve the Memorandum of Understanding. “We’re going to have new council people in a year, and if we keep having to get to square one, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

Watching with considerable interest to the goings-on with Council is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who said she’s “thrilled” that Mayor Kriseman has worked out a deal with the Rays. “That certainly starts the discussion,” she said, adding that “the prior administration didn’t seem to have any interest in crafting any type of a deal.”

County Commissioner Ken Hagan firmly believes that the Rays can be successful if they ultimately land a stadium in Hillsborough County.

“If you look at all the numbers, the demographics,  the business support, they all indicate that Hillsborough County provides the best opportunity for the Rays to be successful in the long term,” he says, but cautions that he doesn’t believe it’s realistic to imagine the Rays being as successful as say the St. Louis Cardinals, who were second in MLB in attendance this year with over 43,000 fans a game. “I don’t have rose-colored glasses on. However, I think we can get to the median range of attendance with other communities and we can sell out the (corporate) suites, which are the revenue-providing assets of a stadium. I think we can create a successful long-term situation.”

But he can only imagine that scenario happening if the Council approves the MOU this Thursday.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.