Rays stadium talk at a stalemate, for now
ST. PETERSBURG - A line in the sand. That's the situation between the city of St. Petersburg and its highest-profile tenant, baseball's Tampa Bay Rays, concerning a new stadium, Mayor Bill Foster said Wednesday. The city has insisted the Rays stay in St. Petersburg or at least the nearby Gateway area. The team wants to look far and wide for a new ballpark site. For now, no one's budging. "Our position hasn't changed and their position doesn't seem to have changed," Foster said. "So, we have this line in the sand."Since taking office in January, Foster has been determined that the team should fulfill its lease at Tropicana Field, which requires them to play there through 2027. Last week, he loosened up a bit, though. He sent team owner Stuart Sternberg a letter with a proposal: The city could amend the stadium contract and allow the Rays to look for alternative sites around St. Petersburg or the Gateway area. Two potential sites were the Airco Golf Course on Ulmerton Road and the Derby Lane dog track on Gandy Boulevard. The city eventually might annex the Gateway land and bring the Rays back into the fold, Foster explained Wednesday. However, the idea was a no go. On Tuesday, team President Matt Silverman met with the mayor and told him the Rays couldn't commit to the city or Gateway area. "We thanked him (Foster) for his gesture, and we conveyed to him again that we will consider sites in St. Petersburg and Gateway when we are considering all potential sites in Tampa Bay," the team said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. The two sides are now at a stalemate. Foster said he doesn't plan to respond to the rejection of his offer. He expects the team to call him to talk sometime after the World Series, and until then, he is moving on to other things, he said. "If the Rays had any desire to remain in St. Petersburg, then agreeing to the (stadium) amendment was a no-brainer," Foster said. "At this point, I'm not interested in talking about it until 2027, or earlier if the Rays agree to this amendment." For the team's part, Silverman's statement said the team is focused on the pennant race and will turn its attention to a search for a new ballpark site in November. Other civic and government leaders are watching closely. One group that might try to break the stalemate is the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development group that has members from counties including Hillsborough and Pinellas. Recently, the partnership announced it would try to bring all the parties together to hammer out a way to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area. This week, the partnership's chief executive, Stuart Rogel, was out of town and unavailable for comment. Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission, said it's important that the Rays be able to look around the entire area for a new home, although he hasn't advocated any specific location. "The Rays are a regional asset and to try to limit this search for a new location based upon geographical boundaries, I think is overly parochial and short-sighted," Hagan said. "That being said, I don't think it's our position to meddle in the negotiations between the city and the team."
Reporter Mike Salinero contributed to this report. Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.