Columnist John Romano contends (with good reason) the biggest problem for the Rays is the lack of business support - largely because of the stadium's location in St. Petersburg, rather than Tampa.
The paper's editorial board took a much more aggressive approach, pleading with Mayor Bill Foster and Rays management to end their stalemate. The board places most of the blame on Foster for protecting his community's investments above the greater good of the Tampa Bay region:
It seems everyone recognizes a sense of urgency to get serious and think regionally except Foster, who hasn't budged in a year. That's not good for St. Petersburg taxpayers or the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.The editorial makes good points, but it neglects to acknowledge one thing - Foster has said he's waiting on the Rays to sit down and talk and so far, they haven't been interested.
Foster refuses to accept the reality that Tampa Bay is one market and that the Rays and the community need to explore potential stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The mayor's offer last year to let the Rays look at sites outside St. Petersburg in mid Pinellas was a positive first step, but it did not go far enough. It's not reasonable to declare Hillsborough off limits, just as it would not be reasonable for the Rays to rule out Pinellas County without looking at the entire market. The Tampa Bay region has matured beyond such narrow thinking on issues ranging from drinking water to transit to higher education, and professional sports requires the same kind of broader vision.
Foster pointed out last week during the dustup over the Trop's shortcomings that he is the mayor of St. Petersburg, not Tampa Bay. But his refusal to compromise with the Rays is no way to treat any prominent business, and it is not in the long-term financial interests of city taxpayers. Every month that clicks off the calendar with no movement is a month closer to paying off the stadium bonds and to the 2027 expiration of the lease. Every month that goes by with no action costs the city leverage and makes it less expensive for the Rays to break the lease or, more likely, starve the team financially and stall for more time.
It should not be this difficult to break this deadlock. Foster should negotiate an agreement with the Rays that would allow them to study stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a specific time period in return for compensation that recognizes St. Petersburg's civic and financial commitment to baseball. The Rays would have to commit to thoroughly considering sites in both counties, and the city still would hold the Trop lease as its trump card.The Times is asking Foster to simply give up some of his leverage on the team right now, a concession the mayor seems unlikely to make. The way he sees it, doing nothing ensures the region at least 15 more years of Rays baseball. While it's not going to get Tampa Bay very far in its quest to keep the Rays for generations to come, it's a risk Foster seems willing to take in a bad economy.