Lowkey and 'casual,' but still: Rays president meets with top Tampa officials
TAMPA — The group of local officials and businessman who meet periodically with the Tampa Bay Rays were supposed to gather Friday to discuss the team’s potential move to Hillsborough County. But the meeting was cancelled.
At least, that’s what the Tampa Bay Times was told when it asked Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office if it was still on.
It turns out, though, that the two elected officials who sit on that group, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, still met separately with Rays brass last week, the Times has learned.
Buckhorn and Hagan said they didn’t anticipate speaking with Rays officials last week but team owner Stuart Sternberg was in town and wanted to sit down with both. Hagan spoke with him Thursday while Sternberg and Rays President Brian Auld met with Buckhorn at City Hall on Friday morning.
So what was discussed at this impromptu rendezvous that just so happen to be around the time of another cancelled get together with the Rays?
Nothing important, Buckhorn said.
“It was more just a sort of, ‘How you doing? Anything we can do for you?’ Just sort of the usual stuff,” he said. “We are a long way from the conclusion of these discussions but it’s important we all trust each other and spend time getting to know each other.”
Buckhorn hadn't spoken with Sternberg in two years, he said.
Hagan, who said he hadn’t talked to Sternberg since Opening Day, similarly said it was a “making sure we’re all on the same page conversation.”
“I would characterize it as a causal in nature,” said Hagan, the county’s top cheerleader for bringing the Rays across the bay.
While he was in the region, Sternberg met with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Friday as well, city spokesman Benjamin Kirby said.
Buckhorn and Hagan are part of a working group that meets regularly with the Rays as the team explores a potential move from St. Petersburg to Tampa. The group also includes Tampa Sports Authority president Eric Hart and Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes. Fifth Third Bank Tampa Bay president Brian Lamb has participated as well, though he is moving to a new position with the bank in Cincinnati.
The meetings are not open to the public and while reporters typically stake them out waiting to get the latest developments, most of the discussions are private. That’s partly to keep speculators from buying and raising the price on potential sites for a Tampa ballpark, Buckhorn said.
“We collectively have not arrived at a specific site,” Buckhorn said, “And for obvious reasons we want to be careful in how that is talked about since it can drive up the cost of acquisition.”