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New player hopes to break Rays-St. Pete stadium impasse

ST. PETERSBURG — The nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership wants to help mediate between the Tampa Bay Rays, the city of St. Petersburg and anyone else who wants to keep the team in the bay area.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, which coordinates regional business and governmental interests, recently sent a letter to members saying it wants to help the Rays stay and "prosper" in Tampa Bay.

"We will be reaching out to all key stakeholders to understand how best to achieve this outcome," said the letter from Tampa Bay Partnership CEO and president Stuart L. Rogel and Gary Sasso, CEO and president of the Carlton Fields law firm.

Their help is welcomed by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster — as long as the Rays stay on his side of the bay, and in his city.

The Rays' contract locks them into Tropicana Field until 2027. It doesn't even let the Rays talk to other sites about moving the team.

"There's a willingness on the city's part to explore sites in St. Pete," Foster said. "I'm willing to explore those opportunities now in spite of the fact that we have 17 years left on the agreement."

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he's not waiting that long. He wants to be able to consider building a new stadium in sites in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties right now.

Sternberg met with the mayor June 21 and made his intentions public. The city has been looking at its legal options ever since.

Foster said he'll support amending the contract to allow consideration of a new stadium in the Gateway area — but still within city limits.

Foster said Rogel read him the letter last week. They asked the mayor for permission to intervene. Foster said he gave it.

The letter has something for everyone. It calls the Rays a "community asset" the partnership is "determined to keep" in the area.

The writers say "we respect" the "relationship" between the team, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.

But the letter also said "our region must pull together" to keep the Rays here. Does that mean bringing Hillsborough to the table?

Partnership leaders declined to comment Friday.

The ABC Coalition, which studied the stadium issue, recommended exploring a new stadium site in St. Petersburg's Gateway area, downtown Tampa or West Tampa.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan welcomed the partnership's offer to jump-start the conversation.

"I certainly hope that Hillsborough and all local governments participate in this discussion," he said.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch hopes the Partnership will bring in more corporate support to help keep the Rays in the area. But he also noted: "The conversation starts in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County."

The Tampa Bay Rays would not comment about the letter.

If anything, Foster said, more communication is needed between the city and the Rays.

"People need to understand that there are only two parties to this agreement," the mayor said, "and right now there's very little communication between those two parties."

Times staff writers David DeCamp, Janet Zink and Marc Topkin contributed to this story.

New player hopes to break Rays-St. Pete stadium impasse 07/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 11:07pm]
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