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St. Pete to allow Rays to search in region for new ballpark site

Tampa Bay RaysThe St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-3 to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to search through Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a site for a possible Tropicana Field replacement.

The vote comes after years of lobbying by the Rays for permission to seek a new site. The team’s Tropicana Field lease prohibits the team from searching for a new home, and despite some overtures from Tampa officials in the past, the team has stuck to the deliberative process in seeking city permission to explore options. Former mayor Bill Foster was dead set against allowing discussions; new mayor Rick Kriseman campaigned on allowing the team to look to the future. Of course, the city does have a vested interest in allowing the Rays to look, as the land underneath Tropicana Field and its parking lots may be worth more to the city for development. From the St. Petersburg Times:

The major differences with previous versions are a joint interest-bearing account in which the Rays and city would share any development revenues from what is seen as a lucrative redevelopment opportunity at the Trop. If the Rays leave, they have to forfeit their share.

If they stay, they get 50 percent of proceeds.

Kriseman says this creates a financial incentive for the team to remain in St. Petersburg and, perhaps, use revenue generated by hotels, retail, condos and other amenities for its share of a stadium. A private developer who wanted to develop the whole site could also be required to kick in money for a stadium. The Rays would have three years to make a decision or forfeit the development money.

Tampa and Hillsborough County officials have already set up a committee to identify potential ballpark sites, which could be surprisingly challenging. A downtown site near Amalie Arena once pegged as a ballpark site is now slated for other development, and other downtown sites also pose some huge issues. Still, this process will take some time: the Rays have a three-year window to search, and we may not have a new site or two or three until 2020. And who knows? The Rays front office may decide a St. Pete site works best.

RELATED STORIES: St. Pete: Rays could leave by 2020 for $33 million; Sternberg: Rays still believe in Tampa Bay; Sternberg: Rays ballpark search will proceed; Rays, St. Pete continue ballpark relocation talks; 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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