More than two hours into a review of the Tropicana Field redevelopment process, a seemingly off-hand remark by St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders turned the conversation around.
City Council members, meeting as a Committee of the Whole on Thursday, asked economic development officials in Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration several times about the Tampa Bay Rays’ role in the process, when Figgs-Sanders spoke up.
“I myself am hosting meetings with the Rays and community stakeholders because the Rays themselves actually have their own beautiful rendering as to what they want to see on that location that some people have not seen,” Figgs-Sanders said. “I will be hosting a conversation with community stakeholders next month so the Rays can also have that conversation with them as to their intent.”
The meeting Figgs-Sanders plans is on April 6 but it is not a public meeting, a legislative aide said. The Rays said they were not commenting right now.
The meeting would be the first time the Rays have talked about their plans for the Tropicana Field site, where the Major League Baseball team plays its home games under a use agreement with the city that lasts through the end of the 2027 baseball season.
Kriseman rejected a Rays’ proposal in January, when the mayor outlined the process for selecting a developer for the 86-acre site, once home to a thriving Black neighborhood whose residents lost homes and businesses when the site was cleared to build a baseball stadium.
Team owner Stu Sternberg said he would keep talking to the mayor’s office, the City Council and the Pinellas County Commission, and would continue to listen to the community.
Figgs-Sanders said she was not trying to circumvent Kriseman’s decision.
“What happened was that I met with the Rays and they showed me this beautiful rendering. My response was, I see nothing that celebrates the legacy or contributes to all the conversation we’ve had over the years. I see nothing that would want me to share this in support of moving it forward,” she said. “My question was, who from the community have you spoken to? … If that conversation is being had and you want to get community buy-in, you have to talk to the community.”
Future of baseball in St. Pete
The city earlier this week announced a series of public meetings and other events in April, giving residents a chance to share their thoughts on the four proposals that remain in the running for redeveloping the Trop site. All the proposals include site plans with a baseball stadium as well as without a stadium.
Kriseman is expected to make a selection in May, according to a timeline from the city. After the city negotiates a term sheet with the chosen developer, the City Council would be asked to vote on a development agreement.
During the Thursday meeting, Council members said they wanted more opportunities to weigh in on the selection process and they wanted to hear the Rays’ ideas as well.
“I’m very uncomfortable talking about any of this without the Rays’ input,” said Council member Robert Blackmon. “We do not have a vital part of this whole proposal here.”
The Rays are Council member Gina Driscoll’s priority. Driscoll said she also wants to know more about what the Rays are proposing for the Trop site and how it would work with a plan to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
“I want baseball to stay in St. Petersburg. If we lose this team, we will never get baseball back here,” Driscoll said. “We have an opportunity to do something innovative and I’m intrigued by the sister city program with baseball. I don’t know if it would work or not but I want to talk about it. I don’t know if the Rays’ proposal for that site would work or not, but I want to talk about it. If they leave, I want to be able to say I did everything I could to keep baseball in St. Petersburg.”
Council member Darden Rice, a mayoral candidate, said it appeared Kriseman had taken a “bellicose stance” toward the Rays.
“Someone described to me the state of negotiations between the city and the Rays at this point is like a standoff with two people with very rusty guns and one bullet left in the chamber. I think this is the time to start really having fruitful collaborative discussions,” Rice said.
After several similar comments from Council members, Kriseman stepped into the meeting to address the group. He said the Rays’ proposal was not included among the four finalists because the Rays did not respond to a request for proposals from the city. When the Rays did put an offer on the table, it called for the team to control 25 acres on the site, which would have required nullifying the RFP process and issuing a new RFP.
“I still believe a deal can be had, but a deal that requires us to give up control over the site is not a deal I’m comfortable with because it makes it impossible for us to fulfill the request of the community,” Kriseman said.
The city’s current use agreement calls for the Rays to get 50 percent of all development right proceeds.
“What they were proposing was that for 25 acres, they get the land at no cost and get to keep 100 percent of the development right proceeds. For the 36 acres west of Booker Creek, they wanted 50 percent of development right proceeds and that would be for a team here for a split season,” Kriseman said.“What they were asking for a is a better deal than they have right now and that didn’t make sense to me.”
Council chairman Ed Montanari said that was “an opening offer” and he said the council needs to hear from the Rays.
“Having a Major League Baseball team in town is a big deal. We don’t want to lose that opportunity,” Montanari said. “I want to put the full effort into working with the Rays. That doesn’t mean I’m going to cave in to what the Rays want. There’s a lot at stake here.”
The City Council has scheduled two additional Committee of the Whole meetings, on April 29 and May 27, to continue the discussion.