Pinellas commissioners want to end stadium stalemate

Pinellas County Commissioners repurposed a proposed complex called Sports Park into leverage against St. Petersburg's stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

"How long do we stall further discussions with this potential partner pending a decision by the city of St. Petersburg?" County Administrator Mark Woodard asked at the end of a nearly two hour long discussion. 

Commission Chairman John Morroni says they need to make a decision in the next couple of months.

The stadium talks surfaced after the commissioners heard initial information about Sports Park, a $662 million complex proposed for the county's now-shuttered Toytown landfill. 

The development would become the new spring training camp for the Atlanta Braves, and also have facilities for ten indoor and eight outdoor sports, with dozens of baseball and soccer fields, a hotel and office structures. 

"I think this is a tremendous opportunity but there are a number of big if's, I mean huge if's," said Commissioner Ken Welch pointed out. "The visitor numbers are just incredible; you're talking about doubling our current overnight stays from one project, so I think we really need to vet those numbers."

In 2014, Pinellas saw 5.9 million visitors.  Sports Park claims it would draw more than 10 million sports participants and spectators a year.         

Commissioners raised some questions about Sports Park, but most of their comments targeted the St. Petersburg City Council. 

Twice it has rejected attempts by the Tampa Bay Rays to amend the lease on Tropicana Field to allow the franchise to consider other sites for a new stadium. 

"I'm really tired of hearing the Rays referred to as just belonging to St. Petersburg," Commissioner Janet Long said.  "We're a government for goodness sake, we can't just be held hostage forever because some partner can't make a decision." 

Woodard had already explained the county cannot afford both Sports Park and any request for a new baseball stadium.  The county provided more than $100 million for Tropicana Field, and has long been an assumed revenue source for any new stadium.       

Rays president Brian Auld was in the audience, and declined to comment after the meeting. 

Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman told FOX 13 News he will try to negotiate another stadium site search agreement with the Rays. 

November elections may change the makeup of the St. Petersburg City Council. Morroni said he will wait to see if that new body can break the stadium stalemate. 

Administrator Woodard said his staff will spend the time finding answers to come of Tuesday's questions, but as for hard vetting of the Sports Park developers' claims, "Any due diligence beyond that, we would wait until we got further direction from the board."