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Selig: Baseball may intervene in Tampa Bay Rays stadium dispute

ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday the slow pace of stadium talks between the Tampa Bay Rays and the city of St. Petersburg may prompt him to intervene.

Selig — speaking after a quarterly owners' meeting in New York — told reporters that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg had given him a "very discouraging" update Tuesday.

"We were optimistic that this was moving in a very positive direction,'' Selig said. "Unfortunately, we are stalled. It's serious enough that in the last 48 hours I've given very strong consideration to assigning someone from MLB to get involved in the process and find out what is going on.''

After years of poor attendance, the Rays want to research possible new stadium sites in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Team and city officials have negotiated for months on a legal and financial framework that would allow a regionwide search.

Foster scoffed at Selig's contention that talks have stalled.

"We had a great conversation this week,'' Foster said. "The fact that we met Monday does not lend credence to his statement.''

Foster declined to say when the next meeting with the Rays would take place, "but we are still talking. There is nothing different today than there was yesterday and the day before. This is not news.''

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Sternberg's tone was more upbeat than Selig's.

"I am still optimistic that we can make progress to ensure baseball thrives in Tampa Bay for generations to come,'' Sternberg said. "To this point, MLB has left it in my hands to come up with a solution.''

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who has been active in seeking to position his county as an option for a new Rays stadium, said Selig's statement Thursday underscored the importance of ramping up the dialogue.

"It reaffirms what Mr. Sternberg stated during his (Hillsborough) County Commission presentation in January, and it is a reflection of what I've stated for over three years," Hagan said. "There exists a sense of urgency to resolve this issue. The sense of urgency is real. It's borderline dire."

That said, Hagan said the next step is for the St. Petersburg City Council, Foster or both to reach agreement on terms that would allow the Rays to look in Hillsborough, and that could take weeks.

In the meantime, he had a meeting Thursday morning with county Administrator Mike Merrill and county attorney Chip Fletcher to begin plotting Hills­borough's course of action. They discussed what organizations should be participants in a committee Hagan hopes to form to serve as a go-between between Hillsborough officials and the Rays. The discussion also touched on upcoming talks between the county and city of Tampa about renewing redevelopment areas and special taxing districts, one of which includes downtown Tampa and areas sometimes discussed as prospective stadium locations.

The MLB commissioner's office occasionally has injected itself in other local stadium disputes, including a committee that for years has tried to find a new home for the Oakland A's. A major league executive took an active role in negotiations between the Marlins, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, who jockeyed for years before reaching a deal.

Teams with older stadiums and poor attendance often collect tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue sharing from teams that draw more fans.

As of this week, the Rays are second-worst in attendance, followed only by the Marlins. The Rays have one of the league's strongest television audiences but one the weakest media contracts because of the dynamics of Florida's cable and satellite television market.

Sternberg indicated that his fellow owners are impatient.

"We should be able to get to the point where the revenue sharing dollars we would receive don't need to be so significant year in and year out,'' he told the Associated Press. "How many years is this going to be? How much money is it going to be?"

Barry Bloom, who blogs for Major League Baseball, reported that Selig was seeking a breakthrough with St. Petersburg by the All-Star break in mid July. When that deadline fizzled, Selig gave Sternberg another month.

The Rays "have been a model organization, extraordinarily capable. Under this ownership they've done everything in their power to make their ballpark situation work,'' Selig said. "Frankly — and this is coming directly from me — baseball needs a resolution to this problem.''

Selig didn't say which executive he might appoint to mediate a deal. Foster said he did not care.

"Ours is a big table,'' Foster said. "The commissioner is always welcome to sit down with me to discuss the situation.''

Times staff writers Bill Varian and Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Selig: Baseball may intervene in Tampa Bay Rays stadium dispute 08/15/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 15, 2013 11:39pm]

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