St. Petersburg City Council will discuss a proposal today that would allow the Tampa Bay Rays to pay an "exploration" fee to consider new stadium sites.

Councilman Charlie Gerdes proposes amending the contract with the Rays to allow the team to negotiate with developers and other local governments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to find a new stadium.

The proposal would not release the Rays from their commitment to play at Tropicana Field through 2027 nor let them negotiate to play at another site sooner. If the Rays found another site, they would still have to then negotiate with the city to break their contract.

"My primary intention is for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County investors to be able to have those kinds of talks with the Rays," Gerdes said. "And if the Rays want to look into Hillsborough, which they don't have permission to do today, we get something in return."

The $1.4 million exploration fee, which is based on the amount that the city paid to subsidize Tropicana Field in 2012, would give the Rays one year to explore options. The team could continue to negotiate for another two years if they paid further fees.

At today's meeting, city council members could decide to refer the proposal to a committee or to bring it back for a full vote before presenting it to the Rays.

If the Rays agree to the proposed amendment, they would be required to consider the Carillon stadium site presented by a Pinellas developer before looking at sites in Hillsborough.

Rays executives have said they need a new stadium to boost flagging attendance. Despite a winning record in 2012, the Rays' average attendance of about 19,000 was Major League Baseball's lowest.