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As Rays Explore Stadium Options, Councilors Seek Compromise

St. Pete council members hope to get the ball rolling on the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium search by proposing that the team pay an annual "exploration" fee in exchange for looking at potential sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough.

For the past two weeks, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and the organization have made public presentations to the Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissions pleading their case to look for stadium options beyond Tropicana Field. 

Following the team's PR presentation calling for a new stadium in Pinellas County, St. Pete City Council Chair Karl Nurse stood in front of the Rays asking them to seek compromise and look at the Carillon/Gateway location first.

In September, Darryl LeClair and CityScape made a presentation for the Rays Park at Carillon to be located near the Feather Sound area, just west of the Howard Frankland Bridge. 

Nurse told Patch that he wants to allow the Rays to look for stadium options outside of the Tropicana Field location in exchange for the Rays' serious consideration of the Rays Park at Carillon first. 

"My hope is that they would dig into that... and that it would get the conversation going into financing, transportation and redevelopment," Nurse told Patch. 

Nurse said he has no fears that opening the door to look in Hillsborough would mean the Rays would leave. 

"I'm not very worried about that because I think there are things on the other side of the bay that cannot be fixed," Nurse said. "I don’t think you can fix the transportation bottle neck" crossing the Howard Frankland and heading downtown. 

$1.4 Million 'Exploration' Fee on Table

Thursday, St. Pete council member Charlie Gerdes will introduce a new business item that would allow the Rays to look for other stadium options in Pinellas and Hillsborough if they paid an annual "exploration" fee.

Gerdes told Patch the fee would be $1.4 million a year, which is the five-year average of subsidies St. Pete taxpayers have paid for the Trop.  

He said it was time for St. Petersburg to stop being on the defensive when it comes to the Rays. 

"To me it looks bad if we are on the defense," Gerdes said. "It looks bad. It’s almost like we are afraid.

"And we always talk about how much better we are than Tampa: We got more energy going on, more entertainment, more excitement," Gerdes added. "Then all of a sudden Tampa wants to take run at (the Rays), and we are now going to play defense."

The Rays' lease at Tropicana Field does not end until 2027, and Mayor Bill Foster has said the Rays cannot look for new stadium options outside St. Pete until the lease runs out. 

Gerdes' amendment would allow the Rays to look at potential sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties if they paid the exploration fee. His amendment would also require the Rays to "confirm and restate" their obligation to remain at Tropicana Field through the remainder of the lease.

Is Carillon the Right Choice?

Gerdes said if St. Pete continues to not put forward more compromises/proposals, then there is a greater risk of the team leaving than allowing it to look around. 

"I think we ought to be beating our chest a little bit," Gerdes said of St. Pete. "I’m afraid if we play defense, all we are doing is shutting it down." 

Nurse said at the end of the day, if the Rays are allowed to look around the bay area, he thinks Carillon would be their choice. He said due to transportation metrics, that is where he would like the team to end up. 

"I think in the long run, Carillon works better," Nurse said. "Now the Carillon developers, they are not willing to wait forever. So, the conversation would have to get serious soon." 

"People may not understand, but it’s really my attempt to make sure they are here in St. Pete until 2220, not just 2027," Gerdes said of the goal of his proposal. "I want my grandkids kids to be able to (one day) watch the Rays." 

We want to hear from you, Clearwater: What's the best spot for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium? Would you go to games at a Carillon ballpark? Post a comment below and join the discussion.

michael mirra February 06, 2013 at 11:29 AM
Lets keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. Pinellas has not supported the Rays adequatly. Let them move somewher else in the Tampa Bay area, or they will move somwhere else outside the Tampa Bay area. I don't think St. Pete will be hard headed enough to let them go to Las Vegas, or San Antonio, but they might cause the Rays to do that. Then they will be remembered as the stuborn idiots that made us lose baseball forever. You know that Major league baseball will never give us another franchise. Since the Rays, Tampa Bay has risen, in the national view, as a city of notable worth. If we lose the Rays, our image will plummet back to Gooberville central status. It isn't a matter of a new stadium. It's a matter of Tampa Bay baseball fans supporting teams from other cities, over 1,000 miles away, where they don't even live. When I see a guy with a Yankee hat, I want to ask him how his Florida 'vacation' is going? I figure he must be a New Yorker away from home. If he was a Tampa Bay resident, he would have a Ray's hat on. Right? Tampa Bay-The land of the Free & The home of the Rays
michael mirra February 06, 2013 at 11:34 AM
St. Pete may be manuvering for a pay off from Major league baseball to let the Ray's go. It may not be in the open. Back door agreements & under the table payoffs are not new to politics & especially the behind the scenes Good Ol' Boy Network of Florida.

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