NOTE: This story has been updated with new information since original publication.
The St. Petersburg City Council wants to work with the Tampa Bay Rays on the future of the Tropicana Field site.
After hearing from the Rays’ business leaders Thursday afternoon, Council members unanimously approved a resolution Thursday night calling on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration not to bring an agreement with a developer to the Council for approval until the future of the Rays is determined.
“I think we need to hit the pause button on the master developer selection process until we figure out what’s happening with the Rays,” said Council member Darden Rice, a mayoral candidate who proposed the resolution. During debate on the resolution a few hours later, she said, “It sends a notice that we want to start talking and we want to see clear results and outcomes from those conversations.”
The move is a shift from the approach taken by Kriseman, who has short-listed four developers for the Trop site redevelopment. It’s the largest and most closely watched project to come before the city in years and will impact business and economic development, as well as address social issues and inclusion for Black residents who were displaced when the Trop was built in the 1980s.
After Kriseman rejected a Rays proposal for the Trop site in January, Rays owner Stu Sternberg said he was committed to keeping the team in the area. Sternberg and team presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld elaborated on that commitment while talking to the City Council, focusing on the Sister City plan, in which the Rays would split their season between Montreal and Tampa Bay.
“I’d like to talk about what Sister City really means,” Auld said. “We’re going to build an ecofriendly outdoor ballpark to host games during the most beautiful time of the year in Florida. We’re going to catalyze development, bolster tourism and produce even more significant economic impact than we do today. Economic impact means more jobs, more business opportunities, more visitors to our beaches, hotels, restaurants and shops. It all amounts to more progress and greater innovation.”
Not only would the Rays play about 40 home games at the ballpark, but it could be programmed year-round for concerts and events, with the potential to host spring training games and likely serve as home field for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Auld said.
Because the Rays’ contract to play ball at Tropicana Field is up at the end of the 2027 season, developers have submitted plans that were drawn up both with and without a baseball stadium on site.
The surest path forward for the Trop site is to answer the baseball question first, Silverman said.
“We remain eager and ready to engage with the city, the county and other stakeholders on the possibility of building a new ballpark and performance Science Center on the site,” Silverman said.
The Rays did not respond to the city’s request for proposals because the team didn’t want its participation to dampen developer interest, he said.
“Most recently we were asked by city administration if we wanted to comment on the finalists they selected. We have refrained from doing so because it’s premature. Our focus is on keeping baseball in Tampa Bay,” Silverman said.
Before voting on a resolution, several council members indicated they want to hear more about the Rays’ plans.
The Sister City plan “sounded like a strange idea at first but it’s quite innovative,” said Council member Gina Driscoll. “It’s different, but here in St. Pete, we’re not afraid to try new things.”
It’s a “new day” for collaboration, said Council member Brandi Gabbard. “You are our No. 1 partner in the largest redevelopment the city will ever see. I don’t want to pick a master plan developer without your input.”
Nothing that was shared during the council meeting is at odds with the administration’s views, said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.
“We love the Rays. We want baseball here forever, certainly for at least long as we can negotiate. But then we get to some point in negotiating where it gets beyond a clear affirmation of love and partnership, to actually getting down to the terms by which a continued partnership would be governed,” she said.
Kriseman will keep trying to work out a deal, Tomalin said.
“I haven’t heard anything that materially pivots the trajectory on which administration is on,” she said. “We certainly plan to continue in conversation with the Rays until we either come to agreement and celebrate a fruitful and long partnership, or one of the two sides comes to understand that’s not possible. Until we get there we have to maintain the posture of a party negotiating with another party on an outcome yet to be determined, understanding we have to protect and promote the best interests of the citizens of St. Petersburg, and we believe that includes the Rays playing here for future generations.”
During the debate on the resolution, Tomalin was even more blunt about the negotiation process, saying it was important for the city not to cede its position in the talks.
“What motivates the Rays to compromise in negotiations when they know they hold the future of that site in their control,” she said. “They are absolutely treating this as a negotiation. They’re protecting their position. And I want to make sure Council leaves the mayor with the latitude to be able to leverage his position of negotiation … so that in order to move anything forward on that site we don’t have to come to appeasement with what the Rays are requesting.”
The City Council agreed to review the appropriateness of its resolution by the end of the 2021 baseball season.