Some St. Petersburg City Council members say they are open to considering a split season for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The idea is innovative, and innovative ideas often are met with resistance before they are accepted, several council members said during a Thursday meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“Some of the most innovative things that we take for granted today started out as seemingly crazy ideas. When we look at 2028 and we look at possibly having a split season, I don’t know if I’m in favor or that or not, because we haven’t fully explored that together with the Rays. I don’t know what that would look like. At the end of the day, I might decide no, that’s not the right thing for us, but I want to find out,” said Council Vice Chair Gina Driscoll.
The split team idea is radical, but a lot of things in the norm today were radical when they were introduced, said Council member Brandi Gabbard.
“Yes, we want [the Rays], and we want them all the time, but are we closing off opportunity by just shutting down an idea because it’s new?” Gabbard asked Kriseman. “I can’t make any decisions or even consult with you in private on that until we have more information … I don’t think we’re anywhere near having enough data or info or even thoughts about what that looks like to shut it down completely.”
The future of Major League Baseball – a key economic driver in St. Petersburg – is at stake in the debate, as are redevelopment plans for the 86-acre site that is home to Tropicana Field where the Rays play. City staff are working on a request for proposals to redevelop the site but it’s not clear when it will be issued, city council members were told later Thursday.
In December, Kriseman rejected the idea of exploring a split season prior to the end of 2027, when the Rays’ lease at the city-owned Trop expires. He said the best path forward was to abide by an existing use agreement that bars the team from negotiating to play elsewhere until after the 2027 season.
The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this week that the Rays are talking about blocking redevelopment at the Trop site if they are forced to abide by the use agreement.
Kriseman told the council on Thursday that the use agreement is clear regarding the rights afforded to each party. He cited two provisions related to the city developing the land. One provision says development is “subject to reasonable approval of the club,” and a second says “provided that the club’s operations of the dome are not unreasonably impaired.”
“The operations of the club are to play baseball games in the dome and to have fans come to watch,” Kriseman said. “So under the terms of the agreement, as long as the development on the site does not interfere or prohibit or prevent the Rays from playing baseball games in the dome, and prevent fans from parking and attending the games, denial of approval would be unreasonable. We are certain there is development which could occur on the site that would not impair the Rays’ ability to play games and have fans attend those games — development that would not be piecemeal, but the beginning of a master plan for the entire site.”
The agreement also calls for the city and the Rays to split profits from development on the Trop site.
“The city’s interest in the land lasts forever,” Kriseman said. “The Rays’ interest is for seven more years. In 2028, the Rays get zero dollars from any redevelopment that occurs on the land. So the clock is ticking, but not for us, for the Rays.”
The clock also is ticking for the city and its chance to do a generational project that will bring real change, said Council member Amy Foster. She asked if there have been discussions that would allow the Rays to reimburse the city in return for being allowed to explore other sites prior to 2028.
Kriseman declined to answer, saying he would update each city council member during individual one-on-one meetings, not in a public forum.
Kriseman also said that both he and the Rays have said they would not negotiate publicly or through the press but he added that does not mean conversations are not occurring.
After the meeting both the mayor and the Rays took to social media to state their views.
— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) January 30, 2020
In response to the St. Petersburg City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting today, the Tampa Bay Rays have issued the following statement. pic.twitter.com/1cfhnTpWLn
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) January 30, 2020
Kriseman has said previously, and reiterated Thursday, that he would not support using city funding to build a new stadium for a part-time team.
City council member Darden Rice, who asked for the Thursday meeting to get an update on the Trop site plans, said county funding from the tourist development tax might be enough to cover costs.
The loss of the Rays might also mean the loss of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the soccer team bought by the Rays in 2018, said Council member Robert Blackmon.
“We need to be thinking of how we could tie both franchises together,” Blackmon said. “If we were to lose both of them I think it would pretty disheartening for our citizens.”
City Council Chair Ed Montanari suggested putting together a community-wide committee focused on keeping the team in St. Petersburg after 2027. “I know there’s a lot of interested parties between the Chamber, the EDC, the Downtown Partnership and other community leaders. We need to find a way to create a win-win situation not just for the Rays but for the city of St. Petersburg,” Montanari said.
In 2016, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the city launched the “Baseball Forever” initiative, backed by 15 of the largest organizations in St. Petersburg who pledged to support the team staying in St. Pete.
“I’m not sure about restarting that same organization, but I would like to have some sort of community-wide committee to talk about these issues and try to find a resolution to keep the Rays here,” Montanari said.