Friday, June 24, 2011

What Mayor Bill Foster is Thinking

After a look inside the brain of Rays Principal Owner Stu Sternberg, it’s time to analyze what St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster is thinking as the Stadium Saga enters another stalemate summer.

With attendance at The Trop barely registering in the MLB rankings and the city threatening lawsuit over anyone or anything that threatens to interfere with their use agreement, Foster has taken it on the chin from the local papers:
- Times columnist John Romano implied a good leader would be open to the Rays’ demands.
Tribune columnist Martin Fennelly said Foster had his head in the sand and deserves boos.
Times columnist Sue Carlton said she hopes St. Pete and the Rays can just work it out.
The Tribune editorial board called Foster “stubborn” and said he’s risking losing the Rays.
We’ve heard Foster say The Trop is a great facility. But that’s Foster the St. Pete Promoter talking. He doesn’t really think the Rays’ have a park that compares to Target Field, PNC Park, or Wrigley Field. But he will get offended if you suggest the park and the city are the reason you don’t go to games.

And even though Foster said on the campaign trail the Rays could leave St. Pete after 2016, he now says he’ll go to court to make sure they don’t break the contract. That’s Foster the Lawyer talking.

To Foster the Lawyer, the stadium situation is only a problem because the Rays said so. With no actual proof of financial struggles, nor proof of another city looking for a team, Foster remains content to hold his ground. All Sternberg has done so far is ask not-so-nicely for permission to explore breaking their contract.

It comes to down to preserving St. Pete’s equity in Major League Baseball. The city agreed to build a stadium in exchange for 30 years of baseball. Foster sees anything short of that benchmark unacceptable.

Is he willing to negotiate? Sure. Is he willing to accept financial restitution in exchange for early termination of the contract? Probably. But that hasn't been offered by the Rays.

What has been offered is a region-wide search for a better location and Foster already knows what that would yeild: a Tampa vs. St. Pete tug-of-war. When the Tribune suggests a Tampa stadium plan would do nothing to interfere with St. Pete's relationship, they're wrong. It takes away St. Pete's leverage.

And in a stalemate that will ultimately come down to a negotiation over hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, Foster the Lawyer can't afford to lose any leverage.

While he would love to help the Rays build a new state-of-the-art park in Pinellas County, Foster sees many of the recent ballparks as public bailouts of private businesses that may not have even needed them.

And as much as he would prefer to negotiate in the mayor’s office rather than the court of public opinion, Foster has no problem playing the bad guy to the region to preserve the interests of his city. He's the mayor of St. Pete, not greater Tampa Bay.

When Foster says he's prepared for all of MLB's "tricks," he means he isn't going to buy the argument that a new stadium is a "need," rather than a "want."

Foster the St. Pete Promoter thinks if the Rays wanted to succeed in St. Pete in the first place, they'd promote their home instead of bash it. Foster the Lawyer thinks if the team wants a new stadium, it should come to the negotiating table to discuss compensation for terminating its contract early.

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