Thursday, May 28, 2015

BREAKING: St. Pete Council Swing Vote Names His Price on Rays Deal

For the first time, the St. Pete councilman perceived as the swing vote on the Rays stadium issue indicated what it would take to win his blessing for a multi-county stadium search.  But it's not going to happen anytime soon.

Councilmember Steve Kornell, who voted against December's proposal that would let the Tampa Bay rays explore new stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough County's without paying a fee - and only about $2 million a year for every year they left prior to the 2027 expiration of the current contract - said during a Thursday workshop that he would want a $55 million guarantee from the Rays to tear up the current agreement.

Kornell told me he expects significant pushback in the court of public opinion, but his asking price is steeped in precedent.

In 2008, when the Supersonics left Seattle two years prior to the end of their arena lease, the team agreed to pay the city $45 million, with other stipulations that could have potentially raised the total.  Kornell said the city won by refusing to short-sell its contract with the team.

"The owner came to the city and said, 'I'll give you $26.5 million for two years," Kornell said of the Sonics' initial offer to Seattle.  "They said, 'no, we're going to stand up for our taxpayers - we're just going to go to court."

The Sonics later increased their offer prior to a judge's decision.

A frustrated Mayor Rick Kriseman told Kornell during Thursday's workshop that the Rays' situation was different than Seattle's because they weren't asking to leave the region.  He also said Rays President Bryan Auld indicated there would be no better offer than what has already been presented.

For what it's worth, a judge in Minnesota also blocked MLB from contracting the Twins when the team had just one year left on its contract, which would explain why the Rays' hands are tied without getting council's blessing:

Currently, the team is locked into a seemingly-ironclad agreement with St. Petersburg, which has  threatened legal action against any party that interferes with its current contract, which binds the raise to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season.

However, dwindling attendance numbers have added to the urgency of many Rays supporters to break the deadlock and expedite the process of launching a Hillsborough County-based stadium search site.

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Kornell also told me he felt the need to publicize his thoughts with fans, sportstalk hosts, and newspaper editorial boards calling St. Pete councilmembers "greedy" and "obstructionist" for voting down the Rays' recent proposal to look at stadium sites in Tampa.

Thursday's workshop lasted more than four hours, with contentious debate over the future of both the Rays and the Tropicana Field site filling the majority of the time.  After all, what's five more hours of indecision after seven years of stalemate?

Even though there were lots of attorneys present at the workshop, including councilmembers Charlie Gerdes and Jim Kennedy, Mayor Rick Kriseman, and several members of the city's legal staff, many of the attorneys came to different legal opinions at different times.  It helps explain the divide that exists on council:
Council voted on the mayor's recently-renegotiated MOU, but by a 4-4 vote (Amy Foster changed from a previous "no" vote to "yes,") the deal again died.

They then debated requesting a ULI study in partnership with the Rays to look at redevelopment opportunities of the Trop site - but council never voted on it because of a lack of clear path forward.  So in the end, there was no real progress today - mostly just a wider line in the sand.

Here were some other notable takeaways:
The Rays wouldn't comment on specifics, but sent this one-line statement to me a couple of minutes after the nearly five-hour workshop was adjourned:
“We appreciate the time and attention that Mayor Kriseman, Chairman Gerdes and the rest of the City Council have dedicated to this issue.” – Brian Auld

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  1. Question, does this $55 million mean that the Rays are open to look for stadium options within their surrounding counties, or look at stadium options anywhere? $55 million is a lot, but if some other city is looking to foot the bill for a half billion dollar stadium, it could be a wise investment. Very interesting indeed.

  2. If the SuperSonic example was mentioned, it is with the intention of a compensation to move away. It does not make sense $55M to look in TB only.

  3. $55 million is a joke when the city gets maybe $2 million per year in revenue from the Rays. ANY contract can be broken, the only question is how much is owed in damages.