Kriseman says there's no timeline on Rays deal, but he's dedicated to "hammering something out"

At a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting today, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman made sure to recite a long list of things his administration has accomplished in just over year, things like curbside recycling, a deal with the county on emergency medical services, and raising the minimum wage for city workers.

All fun stuff, but probably not the reason the room was so packed.

Kriseman seemed to know this, so he was also sure to get out in front of the forum's audience on an issue the club was likely to grill him on: St. Pete City Council's rejection of a deal that would have let the Tampa Bay Rays explore stadium sites in Hillsborough if the team agreed to pay the city millions in penalties were they to break their lease to play at the Trop until 2027.

"I figure I won't get any easy questions about the Rays today, so allow me to say this now," he told the large audience. "There is no timetable for renewing negotiations or to bring 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."

And sure enough, audience members wanted to know his thinking on creating the deal, and where things are likely to go from here.

Councilman Wengay Newton, one of the deal's biggest critics, asked Kriseman if he really thought the council would accept the deal.

Kriseman said the council spends too much time mulling over proposals at needlessly duplicative committee or committee-on-the-whole meetings or workshops, and there seems to be a lack of trust among them.

"Obviously, you and I have a different opinion on this agreement, and that's okay...and that's how the process works," he said. "And sometimes I'll be on the winning side, sometimes I'll be on the losing side. But what I appreciate is, despite that we continue to be, we continue to talk and to work for the city and really that's what it's about and how it should be."

Another big issue for audience members, of course, was the Pier.

Currently there are eight groups competing for the city's blessing to build something iconic out on the waterfront, and some audience members were skeptical of the process for selecting the winner. One asked what the mayor would do if the current selection process goes the way of the ill-fated Lens project; that is, opposed by a "well-heeled" faction that has the coffers to get it on the city ballot.

Kriseman didn't acknowledge such a thing was possible, and instead talked about how different things are this time around.

"[T]his Pier process [is] different from the last time," Kriseman said. "I brought in people that were pro-Lens, I brought in people that were anti-Lens. They were pro-Pier, they were anti-Pier, they really didn't care about the Pier. i tried to bring everybody and say, 'let's design a process that's fair and gets us where we want whatever it is, whether it's a renovated Pier or a new one."

He added that the fact that the city spent months gathering public input on what the Pier's functions should be means design firms knew going into the competition there were certain function requirements, and couldn't be random multi-million dollar sculptures you can walk on.

Another questioner was critical of the city's decision to hold presentations from each of the design groups at the St. Pete Coliseum in the middle of a weekday, to which Kriseman replied that the design concepts are all posted on the city's Web site around the clock.

The mayor was also pressed on the city's funding of the arts, and whether St. Pete is doing enough to ensure the city can maintain its status as a city of the arts even as rent climbs out of reach of the creatives who made it happen.

"We increased the budget this year, and then council also added to that, increased what we had done," he said. "Because we know if you invest in the arts, the return on investment is significant. We also know it goes to quality of life which increases our ability for economic development efforts."

Another attendee asked whether the city's proximity to SOCOM makes him feel safer in the wake of the recent attacks in Paris.

"Our chief and our department work very closely with the county and with state and federal agencies to make sure that we are safe," he said. "Some might view having SOCOM just across the bay is putting us more at risk. My view is that it's making us even safer. The men and women who serve us so well and so honorably, they're more in tune to what's going on, and if there are threats. So if there are any threats we're going to know before anyone else." 

Kriseman spoke on a few other issues at the wide-ranging forum, including parking, making the city more walkable and how to make Williams Park, a hub for drug addicts in the middle of downtown, safer. 

The mayor said he will deliver his State of the City address on the steps of city hall Saturday, Jan. 24 at 10am.

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