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.]