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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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St. Petersburg mayor rebuffs open discussions about Rays

ST. PETERSBURG - When it comes to the Tampa Bay Rays, Mayor Bill Foster and the city council are having trouble even agreeing on how to disagree. Some members of the city council have long wanted an open discussion on what to do next about the team, whose management blames Tropicana Field for poor attendance. A city council workshop was scheduled for Thursday to talk about the team's desire to move to a new stadium. But Foster and his staff don't want an open discussion, saying that could weaken the city's position. The mayor's staff managed to take up the majority of the two hours set aside for the workshop, first by giving a history of major league baseball in St. Petersburg, then giving an overview of the contract the team signed in 1995, which obligates the team to play at Tropicana Field through 2027. City Attorney John Wolfe said the contract prohibits the Rays from talking to any entity about another facility. The city is willing to discuss a new stadium with the team as long as such a stadium remains inside or near St. Petersburg, but the Rays insist areas outside St. Petersburg be included in the discussion, Wolfe said.
That's been the basis of the standoff between Foster's administration and the Rays for months, and Foster made clear Thursday his position was not going to change. A frustrated council decided to continue the workshop at another date. Councilwoman Leslie Curran, who asked for the workshop, was disappointed with how it turned out. "It goes back to, 'There's a plan, there's not a plan, there might be a plan, a private group's working on a plan,' " Curran said. "People want to hear something, and I think all they're hearing is mixed messages." "I thought today would be a good opportunity to take care of some of those," Curran said. "It didn't happen." Foster, a lawyer by profession, said after the meeting he wasn't going to do anything that might jeopardize the city's legal position. "We will take no position or no action that impairs our legal standing in all of this," Foster said. "I'm protecting the taxpayers." Over the weekend, the Orlando ABC affiliate, WFTV Channel 9, ran an interview with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in which Dyer was asked whether he would answer if the Rays knocked on his door looking for a new home. "I'd certainly answer, and I'd want to explore that opportunity," Dyer said, according to video of the interview posted on WFTV's website. "I think Major League Baseball could do better in Orlando," he said, but he added that the best overall fit for Orlando would be an NFL team. A spokeswoman for Dyer on Thursday said Orlando has no effort to lure the team to that city. Foster said part of the reason the stadium issue continues to fester is "because you have the mayor of Orlando spouting off or you have the mayor of Tampa saying something should be downtown. There's a lot of talking heads out there in the region … that are not privy to or parties to a contract that runs through 2027."

Reporter Mike Sasso contributed to this report. spthompson@tampatrib.com (727) 815-1074
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