Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told about 60 members of the partnership how Major League Baseball is frustrated with the slow pace of progress in the stadium stalemate with St. Petersburg. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
TAMPA — Business groups are uniting behind the Tampa Bay Rays' effort to get a new ballpark, but they're struggling to do it under the threat of being sued.
So, they're favoring soft-sell approaches such as educating St. Petersburg government and business leaders about the Rays' stadium needs over more aggressive pressure, said Chuck Sykes, chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
On Wednesday, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and team president Matt Silverman gave an informal talk to the partnership, which is a group of area businesses and local governments that tries to market the region to employers. The press wasn't allowed into the chat, but afterward Sykes provided the Tribune with a synopsis of what happened.
The partnership took no formal action on the stadium issue Wednesday.
As he's said in other venues recently, Sternberg told about 60 members of the partnership how Major League Baseball is frustrated with the slow pace of progress in the stadium stalemate with St. Petersburg.
Mayor Bill Foster recently said he may be willing to let the team explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County, seemingly a milestone in Rays-St. Petersburg discussions. However, things are not going quickly enough for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and baseball's other owners. In mid-August, Selig said he's considering appointing someone to intervene in the Rays stadium issue to get things moving.
Sternberg wouldn't go into details of what was tying up discussions between the city and the team, Sykes said.
When a member of the partnership asked how far along the discussions were, Sternberg said, “We're still in the batter's box,” Sykes said.
For its part, the partnership is delicately trying to move things along, Sykes said. The group has talked with Foster about the Rays issue and may have played a role in his recent decision to allow the team to look in Hillsborough County. But it's not clear how much the partnership or any other group played in influencing the mayor.
Some people have called for the partnership to organize a regionwide meeting to find a solution to the Rays stadium problem, but so far it has resisted such a move. The group announced in January that it would be more active in the stadium issue, but it hasn't aggressively intervened.
A second local business group, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., recently gave its support to a new Rays stadium in downtown Tampa, when its chief executive officer, Rick Homans, said a stadium would be a big boost to the Hillsborough County's economic development efforts.
“How do you get engaged, and do it in a way that you don't get sued,” Sykes said, referring to previous threats by St. Petersburg to sue anyone it saw as interfering with its contract with the Rays.
Sykes said he thinks St. Petersburg is softening its tone lately and isn't making such threats.
“I think the way that we can help is getting people to talk and sharing and educating on the research,” he said.