For the first time since his election almost four years ago, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster says it is time for the Rays to explore stadium options in Tampa, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.
This is either a major Foster concession that reshapes the nature of the Stadium Saga…or it may merely be the mayor calling the bluffs of elected leaders across the bay.
According to the Mark Puente/Stephen Nohlgren story, "tepid attendance over the last few years has changed his
thinking, Foster said Monday, in a remarkably candid interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board."
Foster's new revealation comes on the heels of recent news that St. Pete and the Rays have been hammering out the framework of a deal that could let them explore new stadium sites anywhere in Tampa Bay - one of Stu Sternberg's basic requests/demands in 2010.
But as we all know, location isn't the big problem in the Rays' Stadium Saga - funding is.
Could Foster, an attorney so keenly aware of how valuable leverage is in the stadium game, find a way to redirect some of the negative public opinions of him as an obstructionist at Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan?
"It's somewhat humorous to watch (County Commission Chairman Ken)
Hagan and (Tampa Mayor Bob) Buckhorn kind of backpedaling a little bit
because they were all wearing their finest trying to court the Rays to
look over there,'' Foster told the Times. "Now that it might actually happen, you
got Ken Hagan saying he's not going to commit any taxpayer money to it,
which is naive."
Foster's referencing a comment Hagan made a few weeks ago that a taxpayer-funded stadium like Raymond James Stadium would never happen again. And in Hagan's defense, he hasn't really changed his stance; he's never suggested a idea of how to pay for a new $600 million stadium.
But credit Field of Schemes author Neil deMaus, who first speculated Foster may be taking the risk of letting the Rays look elsewhere, only to prove Pinellas County may be best-situated to keep the Rays in the long-term.
That said, regardless of which scenario is playing out right now, we are still a long way from the Rays being able to explore possible stadium sites in Hillsborough County.
That's because no deal is done yet on how St. Pete would guarantee the Rays looking elsewhere wouldn't make it easier for them to break their current contract. And the Rays haven't agreed yet to the possible multi-million dollar price tag on exploring new stadium sites.
Again, Foster is an attorney, so there's no way he's going to simply let the Rays walk out on their contract - and obligations to St. Petersburg - without significant compensation.
But any Rays fan has to be happy with any sign of progress in the ongoing Stadium Stalemate (any fan, that is, except the two former councilmembers who have hopes of replacing Foster as mayor this fall).
Now if only Tampa Bay could come together to find a way to finance a stadium....the Rays wouldn't have to!