Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mayor Bill Foster insists Tampa Bay Rays focus on St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Amid mounting political pressure following the Tampa Bay Rays' request on Monday to scout for a new home — even one outside city boundaries — St. Petersburg officials are bracing for a legal showdown.

St. Petersburg City Council members, some of whom were expecting a public discussion Thursday about what to do next, were told instead by legal counsel to sit tight and be careful of what they say.

"What we do now is look at different avenues the Rays may take with respect to the contract," said City Attorney John Wolfe. "We are researching those."

In the meantime, Wolfe said, the council would best refrain from openly discussing the topic and possibly igniting a rivalry with Hillsborough County, which Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg named Monday as a potential stadium site for the club.

"There's not a lot to say," Wolfe told them. "Except to say for you not to get involved in this competition between St. Petersburg and Tampa."

Before Thursday's briefing, Wolfe said he didn't want council members to talk too much because it might weaken the city's position in case of a lawsuit with the Rays or Major League Baseball.

Hence, Thursday's meeting was short and heavily scripted. Mayor Bill Foster issued a two-page statement that reiterated the city's position that St. Petersburg is the only possible home for the club until its contract on Tropicana Field expires in 2027.

"The taxpaying residents of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Major League Baseball and the Rays," Foster said in the statement. "Above all else, their interests will come first."

Foster's statement discussed the Gateway area or other possible stadium sites as long they fall within city limits. The city is careful even on this point because it would require amending the contract, which forbids the Rays from even discussing sites other than the Trop. The city doesn't want to weaken that provision with discussion of the Gateway without adding contract language that makes it clear that only city sites can be considered.

On Monday, Sternberg specifically mentioned a desire to explore sites in Tampa and Hills­borough County.

Sternberg acknowledged that design, planning and site selection could take years. Even if that process began today, he said, construction couldn't begin until 2014 at the earliest.

He also said "there is no reason for us to be here'' if no plan is in place by 2020. One option would be for his ownership group to sell the team, he said.

Foster's statement Thursday surprised Wolfe, who had been set to talk in more detail about the use agreement.

"I didn't expect it so soon," Wolfe said. "I had to rearrange what I was going to say."

Wolfe touched briefly on the agreement, stressing that as far as he knew, the Rays hadn't violated it by expressing an interest in a new home. But he mostly dwelled on what Foster outlined in his statement.

Foster and all eight City Council members believe the club's agreement with the city is ironclad, binding the team to the Trop. They concede it may not be sufficient through 2027, but any talk of a replacement should take place only between the team and city officials, they have said.

All of them oppose the Rays moving outside the city.

But at least two council members, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton, said they wanted more public discussion.

"With all due respect, that's how people get upset and start thinking that things are getting done in a secretive manner," Kornell said. "We should be as open as possible."

He said rather than just tell Rays' officials that they must remain in St. Petersburg, city officials should present a plan for a new stadium.

"We're letting the other side dictate how this is getting talked about," Kornell said. "A plan with a new stadium puts the ball back in their court."

Newton said he didn't ask any questions because he assumed there was going to be a workshop on the Rays next week. He referred to a request made earlier in the week by City Council member Jeff Danner for a July 8 meeting. But Danner dropped his request because the Thursday meeting was scheduled instead.

"I didn't know that we don't have a meeting next week," Newton said. "If there's no meeting, I'm wondering why now we weren't allowed to ask questions."

Danner said he will follow Wolfe's advice, for now.

"You want to have a simple meeting when there's 10 cameras present," he said. "The mayor and the legal staff are being very guarded, and I support that."

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansi[email protected]

Mayor Bill Foster insists Tampa Bay Rays focus on St. Petersburg 06/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 7:39am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Free speech, Schools of Hope, student voices and more

    Blogs

    FREE SPEECH: The University of Florida reluctantly hosts white nationalist activist Richard Spencer for a rally officials are encouraging students to ignore. Campus president Kent Fuchs, who tried to prevent the activity from taking place, Troopers prepare for Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a State of Emergency for Alachua County ahead of the event.

  2. How old is too old to go trick-or-treating on Halloween?

    Human Interest

    Brandi Eatman guesses the boy was at least 15 years old.

     Costume accessories at House of Make Believe at 1055 N Hercules Ave. in Clearwater. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
  3. Report: West Pasco channel dredges could cost up to $13.5 million

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The cost of dredging a dozen coastal canals serving seven west Pasco communities could reach nearly $13.5 million, according to a consultant's report.

    WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
 A consultant recommends that Pasco County consider a dozen canal dredging projects in west Pasco's coastal communities at a cost that could reach nearly $13.5 million. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times 2011]
  4. Records show Hernando Beach fire chiefs defrauded taxpayers of thousands

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The three former chiefs of the defunct Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department, arrested in September, are collectively accused of defrauding the taxpayers of Hernando Beach, Aripeka and Forest Glenn of tens of thousands of dollars.

    David Freda, a former Hernando Beach fire chief, has been charged with organized fraud. He recently was fired as Brooksville’s fire chief.
  5. Money dries up, bringing questions and new leadership to Tampa nonprofit

    News

    TAMPA — A new leader has been installed at one of East Tampa's leading nonprofit agencies following reports that money is going out faster than it's coming out.

    Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan founder James Hammond, left, attended an awards ceremony in February with Jeanette Bradley, right, who recently wasd removed as chief executive of the charity Hammond founded, the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan. The group was honored for innovation at the WEDU Be More Unstoppable awards. [AMY SCHERZER | Times]