City council rejects proposed Rays stadium search

City council rejects proposed Rays stadium search

ST. PETERSBURG -- A little more than a week after taking a significant step forward in their search for a new ballpark, the Rays ran into another roadblock Thursday afternoon.

The St. Petersburg City Council denied the "memorandum of understanding" agreed to on Dec. 9 by the club and Mayor Rick Kriseman. After pushing back the decision a week, the council voted down the memo, five votes to three.

In other words, the Rays are still bound to the terms of their use agreement at Tropicana Field until 2027.

Had the agreement passed, the Rays would have been permitted to look for potential stadium sites in Pinellas or Hillsborough County. St. Petersburg is located in Pinellas County, while Tampa is across the bay in Hillsborough.

As he left St. Petersburg City Hall, Rays president Brian Auld declined to comment. He later released a statement through the team:

"We are obviously disappointed with the City Council's decision today. Our goal was to begin a collaborative, exploratory process in our region to determine the best location for a next generation ballpark. The Council has instead decided that the status quo is what is in the best interest of the citizens of St. Petersburg."

It's unclear what comes next in this long-running saga. The Rays had been forbidden to look outside St. Petersburg until last week's agreement provided a glimpse of hope, but now they are seemingly back to square one.

Kriseman said afterward it will be up to the Rays to decide if they want to continue to negotiate, but he did not anticipate the city would receive a better offer than the one they held a joint news conference to announce last week.

"It is disappointing that the St. Petersburg City Council rejected the progress and certainty that this agreement provided. St. Petersburg -- and the entire Tampa Bay region -- stands to lose our Major League Baseball team and receive nothing in return," Kriseman said. "This is an unfortunate outcome for St. Petersburg's taxpayers and for every fan of the Rays."

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that he had no intention of moving the team out of the Tampa Bay area.

However, Sternberg added, the chances are "probably nil" that he will still own the team in 2023 if it is not playing in a new stadium by then.

Rays officials have often cited Tropicana Field's location as the fundamental issue preventing the club from having greater attendance.

Auld maintained that the club believes in the region's fans, the community itself and the future of baseball in Tampa Bay.

Auld admitted to the council that he couldn't guarantee with 100 percent certainty that the Rays would find a perfect location with an ideal financing plan in the region. But he said he believed the agreement would have given the Rays the "best possible chance to remain in the Tampa Bay region for generations to come."

Per the agreement, after leaving Tropicana Field, the Rays would have had to pay the city $4 million per year through 2018, $3 million per year from 2019-22 and $2 million per year from 2023-26.

The memo applied to non-binding discussions only, meaning the Rays couldn't have come to an agreement to build a stadium at any location even if it had passed.

Regardless, it was met with some resistance locally.

The council's primary issues seemed to be the amount of compensation, a fear that the Rays ultimately would leave the area anyway and the rights to redevelop the area when the team does leave the Trop.

Kriseman pointed out that the MOU did not apply to any locations outside the Tampa Bay region, and it wouldn't have been admissible in court. As for the redevelopment rights, both Auld and Kriseman pointed to the original use agreement.

"As we are right now, if we [the city] want to develop that land tomorrow, the Rays have an entitlement to 50 percent. That's not going to change right now," Kriseman said. "The only chance we would have had to maybe make a change to that is had we taken this step, and then when we get to the termination agreement, we can discuss that. But that's off the table right now."

The council did agree to hold a workshop in which it will discuss building the Rays a new stadium in St. Petersburg. Councilman Wengay Newton said the Rays would be welcome to attend the workshop.

"We had some valid concerns that couldn't be answered," Newton said afterward. "We're left with a lease that's good until 2027 and we've got 13 years to try to work something out."

Adam Berry is a reporter Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.