ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Rays have no immediate comment on a proposal to let the franchise look at sites for a new stadium in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The Rays' lease on Tropicana Field forbids such a search through the end of the lease in 2027. Thursday afternoon, the St. Petersburg city council approved a lease modification it would accept.
Twice the past year, the same council rejected site search terms negotiated by Mayor Rick Kriseman and Rays management.
"This is very, very important that the city council has said we want to negotiate," said council chairman Charlie Gerdes. "That's a big change from where we've been."
Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will relay the city council's proposal "...at the earliest opportunity."
Under the terms proposed by the city council, the Rays would pay nothing while looking at stadium sites, and nothing until they actually vacate the Trop. City councilman Jim Kennedy crafted the proposal, noting the economic benefits the lease was designed to protect.
"We're still getting the benefit of...a major league team playing in the city of St. Petersburg," Kennedy explained.
"We lose the benefit of our deal when the- I don't want to say when - IF there is no major league baseball being played in St. Petersburg."
If the Rays choose a stadium site in Hillsborough County, they would pay $4 million for every unused year on the current lease, and $2 million a year if it selects a Pinellas location outside the city of St. Petersburg.
There is no penalty for building a new stadium in St. Petersburg. Fees for redeveloping the ballpark's vast acreage also vary depending on the location of any new stadium.
Any new facility in Pinellas would require revenue from the county's tourism tax. In recent weeks, county commissioners have expressed frustration with the city's inability to negotiate with the Rays, tying up tens of millions of dollars that might be spent elsewhere.
"The key that made me offer this is the fear of losing the bed tax," Kennedy admitted. "Because if we lost the bed tax, in my opinion, we would lose our ability to build a stadium."