Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rays Meet With Pinellas Commissioners, St. Pete Council

Five days after the Tampa Bay Rays told Hillsborough County Commissioners that Major League Baseball has "lost faith" in the region, the team's top brass told Pinellas County Commissioners that a new stadium would restore the league's confidence.

The Rays, in their first face-to-face meeting with Pinellas commissioners in years, also encouraged them to help break the stadium stalemate with St. Petersburg, which has a contract with the Rays at Tropicana Field through 2027.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and most of the city council attended the meeting as well, and heard the Rays disclose for the first time the scant number of St. Pete residents who buy season tickets.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg told commissioners that fewer than 300 St. Pete residents have season-ticket accounts, accounting for just shy of 1,000 season tickets. Sternberg pointed out a lack of business support in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay's fourth-biggest business center.

Sternberg mentioned North St. Pete's Carillon/Gateway region, Tampa's Westshore, and Tampa's downtown as more viable locations, indicating a new stadium in the right place could draw 30,000 fans a game.

Yet when asked by 10 News after the meeting why he wouldn't accept Mayor Bill Foster's invitation to discuss an advanced proposal at Carillon, Sternberg repeated his three-year-old mantra that he wouldn't consider any sites until he can consider all sites, including Hillsborough County sites.

10 News also questioned Sternberg about the likelihood of drawing 30,000 fans regularly when several playoff teams with new stadiums failed to draw 30,000 fans per game this year.

"I believe in baseball," Sternberg responded, before looking for the next question.

Rays Vice President Michael Kalt told commissioners that St. Petersburg could recoup much of its investment by tearing down Tropicana Field and redveloping the land once a new stadium is built.

"There is a huge opportunity cost (for prolonging the stalemate), Kalt said. "Keeping us handcuffed to the Trop, it's not doing anything for the taxpayers and people of St. Pete."

Sternberg tempered expectations that a new stadium might guarantee a winner, but said new revenues would help.

"We're not going to be able to continue (our success), even with a $150 million payroll," Sternberg said. "You can't guarantee this kind of success. But it helps to stack the deck."

Sternberg did not mention the spector of contraction, as he did last Thursday in Tampa. But he repeated how disappointed he was in the region's rejection of the 2008 stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront.

Mayor Foster sent a message to Rays brass that his calendar was open this Thursday morning from 7 a.m. to noon and he'd invite Sternberg to meet with him again. When asked if he'd accept, Sternberg said, "Maybe, I'll have to check my calendar."

When asked how long he was in town, Sternberg remained coy, simply saying, "A few days."

For more on the day's development - and video - continue reading on WTSP.com.

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