Rays get their St. Pete lease buyout, now just have to figure how to build new stadium elsewhere

Two months and change after picking up a key swing vote in the November elections, the St. Petersburg city council finally voted 5-3 to approve conditions under which the Tampa Bay Rays can seek out new stadiums sites within the Tampa Bay region, but outside of St. Pete itself.

In short, the deal means that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg can start negotiating for other stadium sites immediately (under the Rays’ original lease, this was a thought crime), in exchange for which he’d have to pay a modest fee (starting at $42 million and lessening in later years) if the team moves before its lease is up in 2027. This isn’t a huge payoff considering St. Pete really had him over a barrel, but this gets him to stop whining about his lease and potentially gives St. Pete the chance to redevelop the Tropicana Field site if the Rays leave — the standoff over who’d get the proceeds from development was apparently resolved by letting the Rays split any revenues, but only if they build a new stadium on the Trop site and develop around it — and 2027 isn’t all that far away anyway, and you know, whatever.

The big question now isn’t what buyout fee St. Pete arranged, but what kind of subsidies Sternberg will look for now as he (presumably) plays off the two sides of the bay against each other. If I’m an elected official in Hillsborough or Pinellas, I’d be saying, “We’ll welcome you if you choose to come here, but if it means giving you tax dollars we’ll put up with driving across a bridge to watch Logan Forsythe or whoever is still left on your roster by then.” Yeah, we’ve established that most elected officials don’t think that way, but there’s always hope, right?

[ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention this, but it’s kind of important: SBNation’s Rays blogger Daniel Russell wrote this morning of the lease revision, “This was a necessary vote for the Rays to make any progress toward remaining in Tampa Bay.” Um, no. Under the old lease, Sternberg couldn’t move the Rays anywhere until 2027, at which point he was free to go anywhere. Under the new lease, he move within Tampa Bay starting now, then in 2027 can still move anywhere. This does absolutely squat to keep the team in Tampa Bay, unless you think that a stadium elsewhere in the bay area is easier to negotiate now than in 2027, or that Sternberg is so desperate to get out of the Trop now-now-now that he’ll agree to a bad (for him) stadium deal in Tampa in 2016 even if it means giving up the leverage of being able to move to some other city offering a way better deal (I can’t actually think of what city this would be) in 2027. This is a “fine, pay us some money and go across the bay and don’t bother us anymore” vote, no more, no less, and pretending otherwise is painting it as some kind of boon for Rays fans that it really, really isn’t.]


7 comments on “Rays get their St. Pete lease buyout, now just have to figure how to build new stadium elsewhere

  1. Sternberg is likely to end up being disappointed by how much taxpayer money Tampa and Hillsborough county is going to want to lay out for a new stadium for him. Sure, they’d love to have the Rays in their area but they’re going to expect him to bring a big wallet to pay for it.

    The big push in Tampa these days is to increase taxes and use the money for light rail and, compared to a new workplace for millionaire ball players to benefit a billionaire owner, spending money on light rail will always win out.

  2. I was thinking that the break fee should start around $75m or so and decline to “very little” by 2026… so this is still a disappointment.

    Is it enough to reclaim the site if he does get a deal elsewhere? I’d have to think no… but then, it’s 11 years away… the most likely outcome now is that he works angles for 5 years (while trying to convince Logan Forsythe he should accept less than the MLB minimum salary) then picks a dance partner and starts to build a stadium.

    I guess the deal helps him in regard to planning/negotiating for the future, but surely he will be less and less interested in paying anything to get out of his lease as the natural end date comes closer and he can move for free?

  3. Hillsborough County pols lose whatever minimal math skills they have whenever a sports team comes calling. All the Rays have to do is send some “fans” in team attire to demand a stadium, and before you know it there will be a public referendum for a fully taxpayer-funded stadium, plus $10 each for youth sports and manatees.

    This was basically the formula the Bucs used, and outside of a couple Dungy-Gruden years (which are still “in the process” of jumpstarting the local economy, like previous Super Bowls), no one has been particularly upset at the team’s perennial mediocrity.

  4. It’s early 2016; At best it would be 1 year for site selection; 1 year for architectural work and voter approval (if required); 3 years for stadium build and move-in – assuming that the Rays would want mega-square footage like all the other new stadium owners have (even spring training sites now take 2 years to build). So, at best for the Rays they could move in 2021. So, effectively they shaved-off 6 years of lease time on a 30 year lease, assuming a new ballpark were “fast tracked”.

    Odds are good that 5 years is being optimistic unless the Rays want to play in a pre-existing stadium in Tampa for a while. Steinbrenner Field could almost handle the Rays typical crowd but people in Tampa may be less inclined to sit outside than people in St. Pete want to sit inside with catwalks.

    Bottom line for all this is the Rays will go where they think they can make more money within the constraints of their lease. So, until someone offers them more money, they’ll stay at The Trop, lease modification or no lease modification.

  5. So if it’s a violation of the lease to negotiate (or even perform site research on) a new stadium outside of St. Pete, but the MOU allows the team to negotiate and search elsewhere in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties (but not to negotiate or search anywhere else in the world), how exactly does the MOU not give the Tampa Bay area a leg up on keeping the team? It gives the area a distinct competitive advantage in keeping the team, and if the interest was to just move the team outside of the area, then why waste resources for 8 years to amend the lease to permit a short window when the team can look at other sites in the area?

    If something doesn’t get done within the MOU timeframe, the team is as good as gone in 2027 – Tampa’s not going to build a baseball stadium on the mere prospect that a baseball team might move there, and the current location is simply untenable. The thing is, that was true before the MOU was entered into as well. Without the MOU, there was basically a zero chance the team stays in the Tampa Bay area. Now there’s at least a fighting chance.

  6. It doesn’t give Tampa Bay an *additional* leg up on keeping the team. Prior to this, the Rays couldn’t negotiate with cities outside the bay area; now, they still can’t.

    The only way this helps Tampa Bay keep the Rays is if Sternberg decides that a bird in the hand is worth two in 2027, and takes a less lucrative offer from Pinellas or Hillsborough in the short term because he doesn’t want to wait to be a complete free agent. Otherwise, it would have made just as much sense to wait until 2027 to negotiate a new stadium — sure, you’d face the threat that Sternberg would move the team, but you’re facing that now anyway (to the degree that Montreal or wherever is a viable threat), he just has to wait a decade to pack his bags.

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