New deal may let Rays explore stadium sites

Late Thursday afternoon St. Petersburg city council chairman Charlie Gerdes called for a special meeting to discuss details of a new deal to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for sites for a new ballpark outside of Tropicana Field. 

Earlier Thursday, Gerdes told FOX 13 News, "My plan right now is to have a document distributed publicly by Wednesday of next week so everybody can see, here it is, in writing."

Kevin King, Mayor Rick Kriseman's chief of staff, confirmed Gerdes has met with Kriseman, and said there may be a meeting between the mayor, the chairman, and Rays management. 

That meeting would be October 22. 

"What he's trying to do is get council buy-in on the front end, and then send something to the mayor that says, 'We can live with this kind of deal,'" King explained. "Ultimately the mayor has to like the deal as well and think that it's good for the residents of the city, and then ultimately the Rays have to like the deal."

Gerdes told FOX 13 News his proposal has three components.  As in previous deals rejected by city council votes, the Rays would pay $1.4 million each year they explore stadium sites.  However, rather than writing checks, the franchise would run a tab. 

"If, at the end of their looking, they decide to stay in St. Petersburg, they won't have to pay the exploration fee; it'll be forgiven," Gerdes said.

The second component involves the Rays 50-percent entitlement to any money made by redeveloping Tropicana Field's vast acreage.  Those development rights would terminate once the Rays start their search, but be restored should they build a new facility in St. Petersburg. 

"The city could then start looking for folks who might be interested in developing those 85 acres and start those negotiations while the Rays are looking," Gerdes continued. "So it can be parallel and not sequential." 

The Rays use agreement on the existing ballpark continues through 2027. 

"The third part of the deal is how much do you pay per year for every year you're not here up until 2027," Gerdes said. "It'll be an amount certain, $2.2 million, $2.3 million, a number I haven't quite worked out yet."

The council chairman said he is trying to appease two of the four councilmembers who rejected earlier stadium site search deals negotiated with the Rays by the mayor. 

"Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy are the ones I'm really trying to move," he told FOX 13 News. "The way it worked before was the mayor worked on a deal, they came to an agreement, and the mayor had to get the council's approval.  This approach removes that uncertainty...because we've already approved it."

King said some details of the new deal had already been changed after discussions between Gerdes and the mayor's office.

"We're super supportive of anything he does to move the ball forward," King told FOX 13 News. "Mayor's anxious.  There's a lot riding on this."