BRADENTON, Fla. - The St. Petersburg, Fla. City Council rejected a proposal that would have allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to look for a new stadium site elsewhere in the region.
The Rays lease on St. Petersburg's Tropicana Dome requires them to play there through 2027.
The council rejected a memorandum of understanding negotiated between Mayor Rick Kriseman and the team that would have given the Rays three years to find a stadium site elsewhere in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, or some 24 miles away in Hillsborough County, which is home to Tampa.
Rays president Brian Auld said the team was disappointed with the council's action but stopped short of saying that the team would look to move out of the Tampa Bay region, though Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said before Thursday's meeting that if the council did not approve the MOU he might sell the team to someone who would move it.
"Our goal was to begin a collaborative, exploratory process in our region to determine the best location for a next generation ballpark," Auld said. "The council has instead decided that the status quo is what is in the best interest of the citizens of St. Petersburg."
The Rays may have improved their chances of a new venue in St. Petersburg, though. The council unanimously agreed Thursday to consider building a new stadium in the city.
Team officials did not react positively.
Kriseman, who made it clear that the Rays were unwilling to pay more than what the MOU offered and would not consider any amendments by the council, called the vote an "unfortunate outcome" for taxpayers and fans.
"It is disappointing that the St. Petersburg City Council rejected the progress and certainty that this agreement provided," Kriseman said. "St. Petersburg and the entire Tampa Bay region stands to lose our Major League Baseball team and receive nothing in return."
Some council members and speakers at the meeting decried the MOU saying it was worth far more than the mayor negotiated.
If the MOU had been approved, the team found a new site, and left Tropicana Field before 2027, the Rays would pay St. Petersburg $4 million a year through 2018, $3 million a year between 2019 and 2022, and $2 million a year from 2023 through 2026.
The team also would be required to pay off bonds on the dome, of which $29.03 million are outstanding.
Councilman Jim Kennedy, an attorney, said the MOU caused him angst for two reasons.
Kennedy said his biggest concern was that the memorandum of understanding could weaken the separate contract the city has with the team to use the dome through 2027, and that the Rays could try to use the MOU to break the contract in order to leave the city.
The other issue deals with redevelopment rights at the 85-acre Tropicana Field site, Kennedy added. The team's contract requires that the city split half the profits of redeveloping the huge complex if such a plan came to fruition before the Rays actually stopped playing at the dome.
Such a scenario, theoretically, could occur since such large projects often require significant lead time to find developers interested in purchasing the land and obtaining permits.
Kennedy said he would have preferred that the MOU waive the team's redevelopment rights. He then made the motion that the City Council schedule a workshop "to discuss building a new stadium in St. Petersburg."
No time frame was mentioned for holding that meeting.
There was also no mention of how or who would finance a new stadium, which prior estimates have placed at between $450 million and $600 million.
Council woman Darden Rice, prior to voting for the MOU, said the council could work with the team to understand its needs in a new stadium, at the right site, and "the right amount of taxpayer money" for supporting baseball.
"Because I vote 'yes' today, that in no way means I'll vote in the future for intensive municipal financing," she said.
The Rays have pitched a new stadium for seven years saying the overly large and antiquated covered Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg does not attract a profitable fan base or allow installation of amenities other teams have.
According to ESPN, the Rays in 2014 ranked last in the league for attendance with an average of 17,857 fans per game.