Rays exec threatens St. Pete that if team can’t leave before 2028, it will stay

The extremely confusing Tampa Bay Rays stadiums talks with the city of St. Petersburg took a lurch — backwards? sideways? — yesterday when team president Brian Auld told city council members that team owner Stuart Sternberg won’t allow the city to start working on redeveloping their existing stadium site before 2028 unless the city allows Sternberg to start exploring moving at least some fames out of Tampa Bay before then:

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.

“They could certainly delay it for years if they wanted to,” Wolfe told the Times, regarding any attempt to develop the land without the Rays’ permission.

Rice said the message was clear: If the Rays are forced to abide by the Trop’s use agreement and stay in St. Petersburg through 2027, then the team is prepared to exercise its rights against the city.

This honestly doesn’t seem to be all that much of a threat, given that: 1) the city already has rights to develop the Tropicana Field parking lots, and it would be tough to build anything on top of the stadium itself without tearing it down first, which would require the team being elsewhere, 2) it would take a few years to get a development plan in place regardless, and the Rays’ lease only extends another 7+ years at this point, 3) Sternberg right now can talk to other cities about moving there, he just can’t talk about moving there before 2028, and 4) St. Pete has to share redevelopment proceeds with Sternberg if any new construction happens before 2028, but gets all the revenues to itself after that. So really this comes down to Let us consider leaving before 2028, or else we’ll stay until then. Which is really just a restatement of St. Peterburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s underlying dilemma, such as it is: He wants the Rays to stay, but he also wants the Tropicana Field land, and he can’t have both at once.

All of which remains a distraction from the fact that Sternberg doesn’t have another stadium to move to, let alone two stadiums if he’s really intent on going ahead with his Tampontreal Ex-Rays gambit. But in the meantime, if he wants to try to leverage Kriseman’s hunger to get his hands on the Trop land to get to get permission to consider leaving town in, say, 2025 instead of 2028, it’s the only leverage play he has at the moment.

This calls for a check in to see what Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium says about the latest twist:

But hey, at least Sternberg got a news story out of it that says he’s playing “hardball”! That’s got to be worth a few congratulatory slaps on the back at the next owners’ meeting.


18 comments on “Rays exec threatens St. Pete that if team can’t leave before 2028, it will stay

  1. Neil, adding on to your point #2 about the timing of development, Kriseman is term limited out in January 2022, so he won’t be around to implement a plan even if he could somehow land a Big Name Corporation as an anchor by then. His “legacy project” is the redevelopment of the St Pete Pier. So it’s hard to see what the Rays really hope to gain with this other than pissing even more people off.
    On the other hand, the local media (especially the St Pete Times) are totally in the tank for whatever screwball proposal the Rays come up with for spending public money, so I guess this gives them another talking point?
    Really glad you and Noah are around to add some sanity to this stuff.

    • I mean, maybe Sternberg is hoping that Kriseman is so desperate to get his name on a Trop redevelopment plaque that he’ll jump at letting the Rays move before then? To … someplace?

      Okay, yeah, this all makes more sense as an excuse for the St. Pete Times to run a “Kriseman is under the gun!” article even if he isn’t. It’s truly amazing how much of politics comes down to manipulating an easily-manipulated press — or maybe not that amazing, if you’ve watched enough The Thick Of It.

  2. The Ray’s best move is to stay at the trop permanently if we are believe that attendance doesn’t matter and tv revenues are king

  3. Wow, stop press: Both parties to a contract have both rights and obligations under same. Film at 11.

    Wolfe is really grasping at straws here (or was, last July).

    In other news, the person you are married to is also married to you

    As for the “delays” angle and Kriseman’s legacy, I don’t see a problem there either. I happen to live in a community where a proposed ‘business park’ was named after a former mayor (now deceased) in 2007. The business park today consists of a 30 acre field of weeds, some abandoned equipment and a half fallen down sign that proclaims it as the eponymous business park.

    Kriseman can get his name on something (if, in fact, that is what he wants) regardless of whether he is still in office when it happens.

  4. The best move for the Rays would be to stay in St. Pete. The market will soon be in the top 10 TV markets in the US.

    • Tampa-St. Pete just went from 11th to 12th in the latest Nielsen rankings (falling behind Phoenix). So while I agree that it’s a good TV market, it’s not going to be top-ten anytime soon.

      https://mediatracks.com/resources/nielsen-dma-rankings-2019/

      https://mediatracks.com/resources/nielsen-dma-rankings-2020/

      • Last I heard, despite the market size, the Rays weren’t exactly a hot draw on TV either. Has that changed?

        • It has!

          https://www.tampabay.com/sports/rays/2019/09/26/tampa-bay-rays-see-tv-ratings-spike-in-2019/

          • Thanks. So there’s been an avg increase from 35,000 ‘households’ (it’s odd we still use that metric when a lot of the uptick appears to be on FSgo…) to around 65-70k.

            Isn’t that still pretty low for a metro of this size? I recall discussion on 120-150k homes being the base for even a non-top ten market.

            And at 35k (last year’s number) they are dangerously close to Glendale’s Coyotes as a tv property (at least historically). It’s good that the viewership is going up, don’t get me wrong, but… as they used to say about the Coyotes, there’s probably 7-10,000 people (in Phx Metro) who would watch the test pattern if you put it up.

  5. Neil, I have often heard reference to the Rays 50-50 redevelopment rights as per the use agreement, but I don’t see that language when I read the use agreement. I do see language about “air rights” but that isn’t the same thing as redevelopment rights. Can you clarify?

    • Yeah, Section 3.05, right? I don’t see anything other than that “air rights” language either, but there are a whole lot of amendments (there’s an entire amendment that’s mostly just about Cirque du Soleil) and while I looked through those as well, there could be something hidden in one that I missed. Plus, while I know what “air rights” mean in a NYC context, Tampa could treat them differently.

      Noah, some help here?

      • OK so it’s not just me! I have the original use agreement, where have you found one with all the amendments?

      • I don’t have the documents handy right now, but as far as I know, “air rights” are the same as they are anywhere. St Pete has, for many years, assumed they can develop parking lot space as long as it doesn’t interfere with game play….and that parking lot is NEVER full. Of course, lawyers can do lawyer things and argue anything….

        • So you are saying that the air rights clause is indeed the part of the UA that is at issue here? Air rights I believe usually refers to the space above a property. That would seem to me to be different than development rights which implies the right to turn dirt. Maybe it doesn’t matter, as the right to develop vertically over the property carries with it many assumptions about the use of the ground below? But I’ve never thought that air rights and development rights meant the same thing.

  6. Glad I was A) sitting down with B) nothing spewable in my mouth when I read your nomenclature for a team shared between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Then I thought of a nickname that would work nicely for naming rights: Tampontreal Kotexpos.

    Speaking of naming rights, even though KeyBank’s deal with the arena in Seattle ended years ago, sportswriters there still refer to it as KeyArena. What’s the deal? Are the writers getting free checking and overdraft protection? Given the state of newspapers today, they may need something like that.