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Sternberg: Rays will move without new ballpark

Tampa Bay RaysTampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says he’ll sell the team if the St. Petersburg City Council fails to let the team look for a new ballpark site in Tampa.

That drama be associated with a deal like this is inevitable: it’s a huge change in thinking for St. Petersburg pols, and after years of opposing any changes to the Rays’ Tropicana Field lease, the shift is dramatic, to be sure. But the Rays have been asking for this sort of arrangement for years as well, and Mayor Rick Kriseman campaigned on clearing up the Tropicana Field situation. As there have been years of talks already, perhaps that’s why Sternberg was pretty blunt when discussing what would happen if the City Council rejected the proposal:

“The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil,” Sternberg said. “Somebody else will take it and move it.”

The deal lets the Rays look for a new ballpark in Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa), with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2017 to find a site. If the Rays do leave Tropicana Field, the team would buy out the lease and remaining bond payments on a pro-rated basis. The city would pay to tear down the Trop and prepare the site for development. But some city councilmembers are balking at the deal, saying it would cost too much and allow for the inevitable loss of the team. (Kriseman says he’ll pitch the Rays on a new ballpark somewhere in the city, perhaps next to Tropicana Field.)

There’s one crucial part of the deal, to be considered Thursday:

If the Rays do find a new stadium site, the city and team will need a second agreement to terminate the current Trop contract. This week’s memorandum would prevent the council from altering compensation or injecting any new requirements in that second agreement.

Without that protection, the Rays could work for three years on new stadium sites only to have the council squelch the deal, said Rays president Brian Auld.

“That just wasn’t palatable to us,” he said.

Expect this clause to receive the most attention from council members: it basically removes them from any decision on the future of the team.

RELATED STORIES: Rays free to look for ballpark sites outside St. Pete; 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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