St. Pete mayor agrees to max $42m payment from Rays for leaving town early

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has scheduled a 10 am news conference today to announce his agreement on a lease amendment to allow Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to explore sites in Hillsborough County (which is where Tampa is, not where St. Pete is) for a new stadium. In exchange for letting the Rays out of the “can’t even think about a new stadium” clause of their lease, St. Petersburg would receive:

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.

(That’s from the Tampa Bay Times. You can read the full MOU here.)

So wait, St. Petersburg wouldn’t get any actual “exploratory fee” out of the deal immediately, just money if the Rays end up leaving before their lease is up? Since the earliest the team could possibly get a new Hillsborough stadium open would have to be the 2018 season, by my count that means a maximum of $24 million that Sternberg would have to pay to leave St. Pete early, plus $18 million in remaining bond payments.

Given that the Rays would have had to pay to break their lease regardless, on top of paying to get out of the no-looking-elsewhere deal, this seems awfully generous of Kriseman; Shadow of the Stadium’s Noah Pransky speculates that the mayor “must have felt his leverage was limited and the benefit of securing a deal now outweighed the risk of continued negotiation,” which sounds a lot like the reasoning being used to defend Billy Beane’s winter of trading everything not nailed down for a bucket of spare parts.

There is some upside to this deal for St. Petersburg: By making the Rays Tampa’s problem and potentially freeing up the land under Tropicana Field for development that’s active more than 81 days a year (giving Rays games the benefit of the doubt for being considered “activity”), it should more than offset any losses to the city from not having Rays fans drive across the bridge and buy hot dogs each summer. The question is more whether Kriseman, given Sternberg’s desperation to flee across the bay, got the best deal he could have swung — though given that Pransky reports that the St. Pete city council is  ready to rubber-stamp this on Thursday, it sounds like everyone concerned feels like they just want to arrange a payout now, and sit back and let Hillsborough County fight about this from now on.

Pransky will be live-tweeting the press conference starting at 10 am Eastern, so follow him there for further updates.


One comment on “St. Pete mayor agrees to max $42m payment from Rays for leaving town early

  1. If the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay area, this will not end well for taxpayers — either in Tampa/Hillsborough county of in St. Petersburg/Pinnelas county.

    On the other hand, if the team ends up moving to greener pastures better, the local bigwigs will feel bad for a year of two and the region as a whole will be better off focusing its attention on projects with a better payoff to investment ratio.