Rays lease amendment could open new stadium talks

The potential for redevelopment of Tropicana Field's vast acreage might be the inducement to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg - or a colossal consolation prize. 

"Every mayor in America would be jealous of the opportunity to have 84-acres in your downtown core, in this real estate market, with the demand for residential living that Mayor Kriseman has in St. Petersburg," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told FOX 13 News Friday. 

Mayor Rick Kriseman told reporters, "that piece of property is fairly unique in the county. I suspect there's going to be a great deal of interest in that site."

The redevelopment rights are imbedded in a proposed amendment to the Rays' lease on Tropicana Field, which if approved, would allow for talks of relocation.  

According to the current lease, the team cannot look at sites to build a new stadium until 2027. St. Petersburg's city council votes on a proposed amendment to that lease next week - which would give the team three years to look at sites in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.  

The amendment also allows St. Petersburg to start working on two versions of a master plan to redevelop the acreage: One with a stadium, which Kriseman said would consume about 15 acres, and another without a stadium. 

The city would keep all of the money it might make by redeveloping the property. However, if the Rays decided to rebuild there, the franchise would get half. 

"Now you have a pot of money that you can see that potentially can be utilized for them to offset their cost for building a new stadium - that's a big deal," Kriseman.   

Really big; By some estimates the 84-acres may be worth $200 million or more.

Mayor Buckhorn said financing a new stadium would be more challenging in Hillsborough County. 

"I don't think you'll ever see, on our side, another referendum like the one that funded Buccaneer stadium," he said, then predicted - even a patchwork of tourism bed tax dollars and rental car surcharges would not be enough. 

The Rays would probably need to absorb more of the cost. 

"I think all of us recognize that it literally is municipal extortion. We get that," Buckhorn said. "It's supply and demand. There's a limited supply of teams and there's fairly great demand, so the negotiating is going to be tough."

This will be the third attempt to allow the Rays to look at potential stadium sites on both sides of Tampa Bay.  The first was rejected by the St. Petersburg city council, and the second was rejected by the Rays. 

"This is a really complex issue. It took a lot of time, I think, for everyone to understand exactly what we're talking about, all of the different variables that are in play," Rays President Brian Auld told FOX 13 News. "We're here a year later I think with a much greater deal of comfort and understanding amongst all of the parties involved."

City Council Chair Amy Foster voted against the first proposal, in favor of the second proposal and will vote in favor of this one. 

"The thinking in the community has changed," Foster explained. "Many people are worried about this taking up so much air in our community when there are so many significant problems that need to be dealt with." 

Five of the council's eight members have to vote 'yes' to amend the current stadium lease. Councilman Jim Kennedy will be a 'no' vote. He said compensation to the city, should the team break its lease before 2027, is still too low, and altering an iron-clad lease is risky. 

"We have an enforceable use agreement, and I believe it would be still more appropriate for the Rays to deal with who they have an agreement with," Kennedy added.