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Rays free to look for ballpark sites outside St. Pete

Tampa Bay RaysThe Tampa Bay Rays will be able to buy out their Tropicana Field lease and search for a new ballpark site in Hillsborough County under an agreement reached with St. Petersburg.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027, but bonds on the facility are scheduled to be paid off before then. The agreement, reached between team officials and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, will let the Rays look for a new ballpark in Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa), with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2017 to find a site. The team will buy out its lease and Trop bonds, and the city will be responsible for tearing down Tropicana Field after the team moves. From Tampa Bay Times:

Payments would be based on how many years remain on the Trop lease if the Rays leave, starting at $4 million a season until December 2018, dropping to $3 million a season from 2019 to 2022 and $2 million from 2023 through 2026.

The Rays would have to make any remaining bond payments on the Trop, about $2 million a year. The city would cover demolition expenses….

If the team moves, it also will provide in-kind ongoing compensation of up to $1 million. This could include season tickets for marketing the city and signs in the new stadium touting St. Petersburg.

It’s not a done deal: a press conference this morning will convey more specifics, and the St. Pete City Council must approve.

Talk about patience: Rays ownership has been working with St. Petersburg on a plan like this for years, arguing the Trop is economically obsolete. Former Mayor Bill Foster blocked most of those overtures, arguing that the team must honor its Tropicana Field lease no matter what. But when he lost reelection to the more moderate Kriseman, many assumed some sort of ballpark deal would happen. And it did.

In Tampa, there was enthusiasm for the potential of a Rays move from government officials, but Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has spearheaded work on a Tampa ballpark and has openly wooed the team, warns that some sort of public assistance will be needed for a new ballpark — and that will make for some interesting public discussions.

RELATED STORIES: Most county-board candidates indicate support for new Rays ballpark in Tampa; Time running out on key Rays funding component; New year, new day for new Rays ballpark?; Foster: MLB looking for reason to flee Tampa Bay; Residents: Let Rays buy out Trop lease, move to Tampa; Selig: No updates on Rays ballpark situation; Rays: We won’t buy out Trop lease on St. Pete’s terms; St. Pete mayor: Talks with Rays going poorly; Poll: little support for public funding of new Rays ballpark

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