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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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St. Pete mayor talks Rays, pier at political forum

— Mayor Rick Kriseman came prepared for a grilling about the future of negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays at a Thursday political forum.

While members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club and even a City Council member asked the mayor some pointed questions about last month’s failed deal to let the team search for a new stadium site, Kriseman offered few specifics about what his next move might be.

“There is no timetable for new negotiations or for bringing something back to our City Council, but I am committed to sitting down with the team president and hammering something out that will benefit and protect St. Petersburg’s taxpayers,” Kriseman said before taking questions from the audience at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

The mayor’s plan to end seven years of negotiations and allow the team to explore new sites around the region was voted down 5-3 by council last month.

Members of the non-partisan political club asked Kriseman whether he had a plan to sway council should a future vote come around.

St. Petersburg High School student Alex Beatty even suggested a deal where the Rays agree to help pay for a new downtown pier in exchange for more lenient terms.

City Council member Wengay Newton questioned why the mayor expected the council to support a deal that would have lost the city millions of dollars in economic impact and limited the city’s rights to redevelop the land.

Kriseman reiterated his previous critique of council for scheduling a workshop on building a new stadium, saying members were spending too much time in committees rather than making hard decisions — though he stressed that he welcomes a healthy debate over what’s best for the city.

“I think government works best when there’s good dialogue and when there is debate,” he said.

The forum’s second biggest topic was the selection of a new pier design.

“What action will you take if, after all the selection process is completed, another well-heeled group sets forward, does a petition run, gets it on referendum and it loses again?” club member Hal Freedman asked, recounting the fate of the Lens pier design that voters roundly rejected.

A new selection committee made up of both supporters and opponents of the former pier design should ensure everyone gets heard as the city narrows down a pool of eight proposals during the next few months, Kriseman said.

Residents also will have a chance to vote on their favorite three designs in February.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy, but hopefully the majority of the citizens are going to be happy with what we come up with,” he said.

Kriseman also suggested a possible way forward for public transit plans such as the ill-fated Greenlight Pinellas, which appear to have strong support in urban centers such as St. Petersburg and Tampa, but are less popular in surrounding rural and suburban areas.

“A number of us have gone through this where a referendum like that has passed in our cities but failed in the rural areas and around the county,” Kriseman said, noting that he meets regularly with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other big-city mayors in Florida to discuss transit issues.

“So we are talking about seeking the opportunity to potentially have that same taxing authority from a city standpoint that the county has, so that may be something we’re advocating for this legislative session.”

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