St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman to make Rays Stadium Saga campaign issue in challenging Bill Foster

10:54 AM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman. (Image courtesy Florida House of Representatives)
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Voters disappointed they never got to vote on a Rays referendum in 2008 may get another chance in 2013, as Mayor Bill Foster's top opponent may make this fall's election a referendum on his handling of the Stadium Saga.

Former councilman and state representative Rick Kriseman, who announced his candidacy last week, said he is running because of Foster's lack of leadership on issues, including negotiations with the Rays.

"I would not have kicked the can down the road," Kriseman told 10 News in an email exchange. "Rather than simply ignoring the concerns of the Rays and hoping that the agreement will adequately protect our interests until 2027, I will initiate conversations about the future of the team in St. Pete and in this area."

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Kriseman added that the city's contract with the Rays, which - in theory - keeps the team at Tropicana Field through 2027, "can be amended (as well as) broken."

While Foster, a lawyer by trade, has refused to publicly consider buy-outs and has followed the advice of St. Pete's city attorney not to amend the contract to allow the Rays to search in Tampa, Kriseman disagrees.

Kriseman, also a lawyer, says he would like to capitalize on the city's negotiating leverage now and work to maximize compensation for the Rays' eventual departure.

The stance should help endear Kriseman to the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times, the region's largest and most influential newspaper. The paper lent Foster an influential endorsement when he ran for mayor in 2009, but has since been very critical of him, including his lack of embracing a region-first approach with the Rays.

Kriseman tells 10 News he respects city attorney John Wolfe, but "that two different attorneys can come up with two different opinions on an issue."

"Because I believe that the agreement with the Rays can be amended without negatively impacting the City's potential damages claim," Kriseman continued, "I would direct City Attorney Wolfe to craft an amendment to the agreement which reflects the Gerdes amendment (or something similar), yet does so in a way that doesn't diminish our damages claim should the Rays decide to terminate the agreement early."

Numerous lawyers have told 10 News St. Petersburg's contract with the Rays is solid, but not unbreakable. A number of clauses focus on potential damages if the Rays leave Tropicana Field early, but no exact number is mentioned.

In 2008, when the Rays were considering a new stadium on the Downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, various economic impact studies put the annual impact of major league baseball in the eight-to-nine-figure range.

Much like Foster said on the campaign trail in 2009, Kriseman said he would prefer if the Rays stay in St. Petersburg. But, like Foster has begun to acknowledge recently, Kriseman indicates the Rays may not be as interested in a regional search as they are with moving to Tampa.

"My primary concern (if elected) has to be protecting the taxpayers of the City of St. Petersburg," Kriseman said. "If, after exhaustive discussions with the Rays and stakeholders, it is clear that the only way to protect and serve the interest of the citizens and the future of our community is by negotiating an early termination of the agreement, then that is what I would do."

St. Petersburg voters will go to the polls to pick their mayor on Aug. 27. While there is still time for others to enter the race, the only other name on the ballot so far is frequent candidate Paul Congemi.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.

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