St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast has failed to break a years-long stalemate between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays over the team’s quest to build a new Major League Baseball stadium.
The Rays are under contract to play at Tropicana Field near the city’s downtown until 2027. Attendance at the domed stadium has been at or near the bottom of baseball.
The team has wanted to look at other potential venues in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, and Tampa to the north, where they believe the fan base will be greater.
City Council member Charlie Gerdes brought a proposal to the board last week that would have amended the team’s “use agreement” and given the Rays permission to look at other locations. Gerdes is an attorney at Keane, Reese, Vesely & Gerdes PA.
In exchange for the right to look at other venues, the amendment would have allowed the team to pay the city an exploration fee of $1.42 million, which equals St. Petersburg’s subsidy for some of the team’s expenses at the dome, such as traffic enforcement and insurance.
Gerdes said he structured the proposal in a way that would protect the city’s contract.
“This allows them to look, not for them to leave,” he said. “If by looking they decide they want to come back and talk about leaving prior to 2027, that’s a separate negotiation.”
After several council members objected to the proposal, Gerdes asked that they simply refer it to the city attorney for study.
However, the board voted 4 to 4, so the motion to even study the proposal failed because of the tie.
Mayor Bill Foster has objected to the Rays’ search for a new venue outside the city because about $40 million in debt still is owed on the dome and the contract has 15 years left. He announced at last week’s meeting that he would be discussing the issue with team owner Stuart Sternberg.
The Rays have talked about wanting a new ballpark for several years, but discussions got sidetracked because of the recession.
In 2007, the Rays quietly shopped a proposal for a $450 million, 35,000-seat stadium with a retractable, waterproof cloth-like covering that could be built on a waterfront site owned by the city where the Rays, at that time, conducted spring training.
That plan was derailed by the economic downturn, and public sentiment against using the waterfront for a stadium.
Last year, a local developer presented a proposal to build a new stadium in northern Pinellas County, but the team did not indicate that it was interested.
Newer proposals have suggested that a new stadium could cost upwards of $600 million.