TAMPA — St. Petersburg has hired an attorney involved in Minnesota Twins contraction battle in preparation for negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, St. Petersburg city attorney John Wolfe told Mayor Bill Foster and the city council that he had put Minneapolis attorney Corey Ayling on retainer. Ayling likely will stay in the background of upcoming negotiations between the city and the Rays, Wolfe said, advising the city on what demands it should make of the Rays to allow the team to look outside of Pinellas County for stadium sites.
The city will draw upon his experience dealing with the Twins, Wolfe said.
Wolfe was fuzzy on Friday about the details of Ayling’s achievements, but generally said the attorney helped enforce the Twins’ contract to play at their old stadium, the Metrodome.
Ayling, an attorney with the Minneapolis firm of McGrann, Shea, Carnival, Straughn and Lamb, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. However, various news reports from 2001 say he represented the Twins’ landlord at the time, a public entity called the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, against the team.
Major League Baseball at the time was considering killing off the Twins through contraction, but Ayling used the Twins’ 1998 contract to play at the Metrodome to successfully block the team’s contraction, an Associated Press article from 2001 says.
For his efforts, the trade journal Minnesota Lawyer named Ayling an “Attorney of the Year” in 2002, according to a Minnesota Lawyer article.
St. Petersburg struggled to find an outside lawyer who was both familiar with sports stadium issues and also didn’t have any conflicts of interests. All of the big Tampa Bay area firms it contacted about representation had some previous relationship with Major League Baseball or one of its teams, Wolfe said.
Ayling will earn a fee of $250 an hour and Wolfe has authority to pay him up to $5,000 for legal advice. Anything above that amount requires approval by the St. Petersburg City Council, he said.
The Rays declined to comment on Friday.
Ayling’s hiring is probably less inflammatory than a previous legal move by the city. In 2011, the city put a New York bankruptcy lawyer with the Brown Rudnick firm on retainer, under the theory that the Rays might file bankruptcy to void their Tropicana Field contract. The city had no evidence the team planned to do so at the time, and the team hasn’t signaled it plans to do so since.
City Council chairman Karl Nurse said everything has been on hold in the stadium issue for months as the city waits for Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman to take office.