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Rays: We won’t buy out Trop lease on St. Pete’s terms

Tampa Bay RaysNo wonder talks over the future of the Tampa Bay Rays stalled: St. Pete officials say the team refuses to pay anything toward retirement of debt or a future demolition of Tropicana Field.

Now, it’s defensible that the Rays pass on paying to demolish the Trop down the road: that’s the responsibility of the owner (in this case, St. Pete), and we don’t know of a case where a sports tenant helped pay for the demolition of a facility once the lease expired. And the city is also asking for a yearly payment through 2027, whether or not the Trop is standing. Again, the Rays’ opposition to this is defensible.

But the core of the city’s plan — that the Rays help pay off existing debt on Tropicana Field — is defensible if it’s tied to an early end to the lease. (We suspect the city isn’t putting it in these terms, however). But in some ways these talks are premature. The city will certainly make money  by selling or leasing the land under Tropicana Field to a developer: despite the failure of the ballpark, the location is still a prime one, right off the freeway with lots of visibility and easy accessibility. It’s perfect as the gateway to downtown St. Pete. Any sale would more than cover the cost of demolishing the Trop.

Without knowing exactly what the city wants, it’s hard to say if the Rays are being reasonable or not. But city officials certainly seem upset about the way the tenor of talks changed after Bud Selig became involved: before that, they say, Rays officials were interested in coming up with a solution, and now they’re absolutists about not paying a penny in exchange for a release from the Trop lease. From the Tampa Tribune:

City Council members on Thursday blamed Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for the impasse, saying he is behind the Rays’ negotiating position.

The Rays’ negotiating position is a slap in the face for the city and Pinellas County residents who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing and subsidizing Tropicana Field, City Council Chairman Karl Nurse said.

“Their premise is they shouldn’t have to pay us anything,” he said. “I can’t imagine how they can say, ‘We owe you nothing. Goodbye.’ And I can’t imagine the city agreeing to that.”

On the other hand, the protests from St. Pete officials are a little hard to take: MLB officials love to negotiate, and a logical opening stance in negotiations like this would call for no payments at all. Asking for the moon and then being rebuffed is no reason for elected officials to run to the fainting couch with the vapors. We’re guessing that at the end of the day the Rays will contribute something toward paying down ballpark debt, but only after St. Pete comes up with a realistic plan for redevelopment of the site.

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