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Rays Said to Have Threatened to Block Tropicana Field Development

Tampa Bay Rays

Amidst tensions over the team’s desire to explore a possible split-season arrangement between Tampa Bay and MontrealSt. Petersburg officials said that the Tampa Bay Rays threatened to block future development of the Tropicana Field site as long as they are locked into their current lease. 

The Rays announced in June that they had received permission from Major League Baseball to negotiate a deal with Tampa, St. Petersburg and Montreal about an arrangement in which the team would play the beginning of the season in Florida and the end in Montreal. The plan could include new open-air ballparks in both markets, resulting in lower construction costs and allowing the Rays to plan their schedule around optimal weather conditions. Spring and early summer games could be played in the Tampa Bay region, with summer and early fall games in Montreal.

That comes as the latest effort to resolve a years-long ballpark search for the Rays, who are locked into a lease at Tropicana Field that runs until 2027 but have previously expressed an interest in launching the split-season arrangement sooner. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman has instead called on the team to adhere to its current lease. Tropicana Field itself and the surrounding land have been the subject of much discussion, as the city wants to jump start future development in the area.

The current agreement calls for the city and the Rays to share in the proceeds from any development at the 86-acre site through the end of the lease period, and it gives the Rays some say over potential redevelopment plans. From the team’s perspective, language in the agreement could give it the leverage to tie up any future development proposals. According to two St. Petersburg city council members, Rays president Bryan Auld pointed out that language during meetings this week, and indicated the Rays could tie up development plans as long as the city locks them into the current lease. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

Council members Amy Foster and Darden Rice both said Auld, in his meetings with them this week, referenced a quote from former St. Petersburg city attorney John Wolfe that appeared in a July 15, 2019 Tampa Bay Times article about the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

The Trop’s use agreement binds the team to the city. But Wolfe, who wrote the contract, said it could also be used by the team to bind the city….

“Subject to the reasonable approval of the CLUB and provided that the CLUB’s operations of the Dome are not unreasonably impaired,” the agreement says in a section called “air rights,” the city can sell or lease the land for development.

What’s the definition of “reasonable” or “unreasonable?” Wolfe said last year if the team and the city can’t agree, it could be up to a judge. That’s why the Rays believe they could tie up the land in court for years.

At a Thursday city council meeting, Kriseman seemed unfazed by the threat, arguing that the agreement gives the city enough leeway to proceed with development that the Rays would not have the legal right to block. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

The current Trop lease calls for the team to play all its home games there and prohibits the team from exploring a move elsewhere–a clause temporarily waived when the team embarked on a ballpark site search in neighboring Tampa. With the city unwilling to waive that clause at this time, and the Rays not backing down from their desire to pursue a split-season arrangement, the two sides are clearly at an impasse.

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