ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Rays received approval Thursday from the St. Petersburg City Council to begin searching for new potential stadium sites, ending a stalemate that lasted nearly a decade.
It turned out the third time was a charm for the team and Kriseman; the two sides had come to an agreement twice previously, but both times, the council rejected the proposals.
With two new council members on the board, the agreement passed with a 5-3 vote.
"This has been a long time coming for us, obviously. It's a start," Rays owner Stu Sternberg said afterward. "At the end of the day, this is a start. I've used the analogy that we just sort of put the ball in play."
The deal will allow the Rays to conduct a search in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
"This will allow us to focus on the region and find the best situation for our fans and sponsors and partners here in the Tampa Bay area," Sternberg said, adding he currently has no stadium sites or financing plans in mind.
If the Rays move out of St. Pete, they will have to pay the city up to $24 million dollars in penalties. But if the team decides to stay through 2027, the end of the current contract, the deal includes plenty of incentives including half the proceeds from developing the Tropicana Field site.
Those are among the reasons Kriseman cited as he explained to council members why he believes the Rays will end up choosing to stay in St. Pete.
"I believe that your support today will give the city of St. Petersburg its best chance to be the forever home of the Tampa Bay Rays," Kriseman said.
Several of the council members in favor of the deal said, if the Rays leave, the city will presented with an enormous economic opportunity with ability to develop Tropicana Field property.
Kriseman said a provision in the agreement helps paint a clearer picture of the future of that land.
"Within three years, we'll know whether this team is going to be staying on that site or that site will be completely available," he said.
Councilman Jim Kennedy, one of three dissenting votes, said he fears the council has just opened the door for the team to eventually move out of Tampa Bay all together.
"This is just the starting point for a potential larger relocation," Kennedy said.
"Nothing could be less factual," Sternberg said, when asked about Kennedy's comments. "First of all, we haven't given any indication like that, but the agreement doesn't particularly allow us to look outside the region at all."
The Rays have a minimum of six months to conduct the search, during which St. Pete leaders will put together a pitch to try to convince the team that St. Pete is the best place.
Tampa leaders, on the other hand, will also put together their own pitch. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has already pinpointed several potential spots for a stadium indlucig a site near Ybor City, the old Tampa Greyhound track and a spot near the Florida State Fairgrounds.
The Rays will have to make a decision by 2018.