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Kriseman takes a swing at Rays in State of the City address

Brian Hartz

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman delivered his final state of the city address on Friday, Feb. 19.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, delivering his final State of the City address on Friday, upped his criticism of the Tampa Bay Rays and what he perceives as the team’s sluggish approach to deciding where it wants to play its home games. In the 20-minute speech, broadcast online via Facebook, Kriseman, speaking at an empty Palladium Theater in downtown St. Pete, also pushed back against critics who’ve suggested that big decisions regarding the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site should be left to his successor.

“I will soon be picking a developer for the site,” he said, “and they will be experienced and nimble enough to include, or not include, land for a future Rays stadium.”

Kriseman accused the Rays of delaying an important opportunity for the city to bring economic justice and prosperity to more residents, particularly those in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area who were pushed out of their homes and businesses when the Gas Plant neighborhood was razed to make way for Tropicana Field.

“This is our chance to get it right, to right wrongs,” he said. “I believe this project provides us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — an opportunity we must seize now, an opportunity that should not and cannot wait or be postponed. The sooner we can provide jobs and affordable places to live to our residents, the better, and the sooner the Tampa Bay Rays make their desires known, the better.”

The Rays’ leadership team, Kriseman said, has perpetuated a 13-year “stadium saga” that has seen the franchise explore the St. Pete waterfront, Ybor City and even Canada as potential locations for a new ballpark.

“The Rays,” he said, “have spent more than half their existence trying to figure out where they’d like to play baseball for the long term. They’ve worked with three mayors in St. Pete, two in Tampa and officials in Montreal, yet we are no closer to an answer regarding their future than we were 13 years ago. We love our Rays, but it’s time for them to pick a partner and get married.”

Kriseman acknowledged that, after years of looking elsewhere, the Rays have recently signaled a desire to reconsider the Trop site as their long-term home, but he insisted that the team must be “realistic in their expectations.” At a Jan. 26 news conference, Kriseman and Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg offered conflicting accounts of what the Rays had in mind for the property, with Sternberg accusing the mayor of mischaracterizing a preliminary proposal, “a sketch on the back of a napkin almost, in pencil and not in marker,” Sternberg said at the time.

Kriseman’s speech also touched on positive developments for the city. He trumpeted St. Pete’s plummeting poverty rate, for example, saying that despite the pandemic, it has dropped by 37 percent since 2015, nearly double the decline in the national poverty rate.

“Buildings are wonderful,” he said. “We’re proud of our Pier that brings people together, and we’re proud of our new police station. And we’re excited about the future of places like the re-imagined Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and the President Barack Obama Main Library, and the smart growth we’ve engineered in places such as the Skyway Marina District … but progress on poverty eradication means the most to me.”

To view the state of the city address in its entirety, visit the City of St. Petersburg’s Facebook page.

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