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Allison Graves
By Allison Graves December 18, 2017

Approved deal doesn't have exploratory fee, but includes penalties if Rays leave the city

Mayor Rick Kriseman promised voters in 2013 that if the Tampa Bay Rays want to leave their home at Tropicana Field, they could — as long as the Rays paid the city to look elsewhere.

"If the Rays simply do not want to be here any longer — then they should be given the opportunity to pay an exploratory fee in order to look at other locations, provided those locations are in the Tampa Bay area," Kriseman said at the time.

Kriseman presented the St. Petersburg City Council an agreement between the city and the Rays in January 2016. Under this plan, St. Petersburg gave permission to the Rays to look elsewhere for a new home. 

The council voted 5-3 in favor of the plan. The decision gave the club three years to search for a new stadium site in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but what the agreement was missing was an exploratory fee simply to look for a new location.

In an interview with PolitiFact Florida, Kriseman said he didn't remember pledging a fee just for looking at new locations, but argued the deal was structured so the Rays would still face penalties should they make a decision to leave St. Petersburg.

"There's a penalty for leaving prior to the end of the original use agreement, but the even larger penalty is waiving their rights to the development proceeds," Kriseman said. "That's substantial." 

Kriseman has a point there.

The agreement, otherwise known as a memorandum of understanding, places all of the proceeds from development on the Tropicana site into an interest-bearing escrow account. The Rays and the city have agreed to split revenue derived from the development of the Trop site 50-50 if the team remains through the end of its lease in 2027, or chooses to build a new stadium there.

However, if the Rays decide to terminate the agreement and leave St. Pete, than 100 percent of the money in escrow will be given to the city.

The deal also requires the Rays to pay a fee if the team left the city.The fee amount would depend on how long was left in the team's lease, 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 team's current lease expires in 2027.

This agreement marked the end of years of back and forth between the city and the Rays.

The Rays now have until Dec. 31, 2018,  before the agreement expires. Once the agreement expires, the Rays must notify the city whether it wants to negotiate a new agreement in which it stays in St. Petersburg past 2027 or terminate the agreement and leave the city before 2027.

In April, Hillsborough County mapped out eight possible locations for the new stadium, but narrowed the list down to one at the Channel District-Ybor City area.

Kriseman promised to make the Rays pay a fee simply to look at new stadium locations. The city gave permission to the Rays to look elsewhere in Tampa Bay in 2016, but that agreement did not include an exploratory fee like Kriseman promised. Instead, it included other fees that will ding the Rays substantially if they actually move. Overall, we rate this promise Compromise.

Our Sources

Interview, Mayor Rick Kriseman, Dec. 13, 2017

Email exchanges, Cindy Sheppard, City Council Administrative Officer, Dec. 14, 2017

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg City Council votes 5-3 to let Rays search elsewhere for stadium home, Jan. 14, 206

Tampa Bay Times, Stu Sternberg: Top choices for Rays new stadium are unavailable, April 6, 2017

TBO, Hillsborough: New Rays ballpark should go in Ybor City, Oct. 24, 2017

TBO, St. Pete mayor aims to entice Rays with latest stadium-search deal, Jan. 14, 2016

Charlie Frago
By Charlie Frago December 22, 2014
Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin December 22, 2014

Rejected deal didn't have an exploratory fee

Mayor Rick Kriseman's answer to the increasingly tenuous relationship between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball club was succinct in 2013: If they want to move, let them look -- but they've got to pay us first.

The then-candidate insisted on his campaign website that if the team wanted to leave its home at Tropicana Field, they could, as long as they gave the city an unspecified amount of money to do so (and as long as they kept the search in the region).

Kriseman lived up to part of that, presenting the City Council with a plan on Dec. 8, 2014, to allow the Rays to explore new stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, outside of the city limits. The City Council, though, is balking -- at least for now.

Kriseman's plan came amid talk from team ownership that it would likely sell if there was no new stadium deal.

"I'm not leaving. I'm not moving this team. I'm not taking this team out of the area. But that's me,'' Sternberg said at Major League Baseball's winter meetings in San Diego. "The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don't have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It's not a threat, just the reality.''

Under the agreement, which Kriseman called a "memorandum of understanding," the team had until Dec. 31, 2017, to decide on a new site. If the team left the city, the Rays would then pay a fee depending on how long was left in the team's lease, 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 team's current lease expires in 2027.

The team also would have to provide in-kind compensation of up to $1 million, possibly in the form of season tickets for marketing the city and signs in the new stadium touting St. Petersburg.

What the agreement was missing, however, was an exploratory fee simply to look for a new location, which is what Kriseman promised during the 2013 campaign.

The point is moot at the moment, because the council voted against the proposal. In the last meeting on the subject on Dec. 18, council member Karl Nurse asked about leasing and developing property on the eastern part of Tropicana Field's 85 acres.

The team currently has a contract requiring both the Rays and the city to agree to new development and to split profits from land sales or leases. Nurse had asked Kriseman prior to the Dec. 18 meeting to change the agreement so the city would retain all profits in the time between when the Rays started their search and when they moved into a new stadium, an alteration the Rays refused.

"We have a use agreement," Team president Brian Auld said at the meeting. "And for as long as we're in the Trop, we expect to abide by the terms of that use agreement and we expect the city to abide by that as well.'' Kriseman noted it could potentially be negotiated in a termination agreement if the Rays moved.

Even though Nurse voted for the deal, the council was not pleased by what Chairman Bill Dudley called Auld's "arrogance." The council voted down the measure, 5-3.

With the deal dead, none of the parties involved -- the mayor, the council or the team -- are all that willing to talk again immediately.

So Kriseman's deal didn't include an exploratory fee, even if it made the team pay the city if it moved. But the city council didn't approve the agreement anyway. We expect there are a few more innings to go between the Rays and the city when it comes to a new stadium. Overall, we rate this promise Stalled.

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