Foster: Rays must stay in St. Pete

06/24/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Officials met this morning to discuss how to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete. Mayor Bill Foster wants the Rays to acknowledge the risk the city’s taxpayers took in funding the stadium the ball club is now trying to leave.

St. Pete City Attorney John Wolfe stressed that this shouldn’t be something that pits the St. Pete against Tampa.

On Monday, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced that the Rays wouldn’t be playing in Tropicana Field when their contract with the stadium expires in seventeen years. Wolfe said that was some pretty careful language.

After Sternberg’s announcement, the city quickly assembled a legal team to explore possible avenues the Rays might take to get out of Tropicana Field before 2027. They’ll be exploring similar cases in other cities. These include those of the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. The city lost the team in the former case, but kept it in the latter. Wolfe said the Mayor would consider letting the Rays play in a different location, but only if that location is in St. Petersburg.

Foster said this wish was not a slight to other cities in the Tampa Bay region, but rather an acknowledgement of the money St. Petersburg and Pinellas County residents have put into the Trop since before it opened in 1998.

The eight members of the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously agreed.

While Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has said Downtown St. Pete is out as a potential new stadium site, Foster said he’d entertain looking at the city’s Gateway area as an alternative site. But the Mayor acknowledged that regardless of where that new field might be built, the question of how to finance a new stadium remains unanswered.

Foster has hinted that Major League Baseball may try to help the Rays get out of Tropicana Field. City attorney John Wolfe said if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be as bad as it sounds, but noted it would complicate things, given that the league is a collection of clubs, and not a corporation.

Foster said that if Major League Baseball were to financially overpower St. Pete’s legal team and the Rays leave anyway, the city would survive.

A call to the Rays’ press office was not returned by air time.

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