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St. Petersburg City Council to weigh in on city's stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Frustrated by an apparent deadlock between Mayor Bill Foster and the Tampa Bay Rays over a new stadium, council member Leslie Curran has asked city staff to update the council about "any plans/options that may exist to break the current stalemate."

Curran wants an update at Thursday's meeting so the council can play a stronger role in the city's dealings with the Rays.

At one point, she even suggested the club be allowed to explore a home outside Pinellas County — for a price.

The council will ultimately set the city's course on this issue, yet Foster isn't keeping the eight-member board fully informed, Curran said.

"For a mayor who ran on transparency, it's a very cloudy environment as far as information goes," Curran said. "I just thought that with everything that's been tossed out there on the Rays, it's time to let the public know what is going on."

Most of her council colleagues agreed Friday that Foster should at least provide an update.

"I understand that this is a sensitive issue, but (Foster) needs to bring us into it," said Jeff Danner. "He doesn't tell me what's going on, and that's the problem."

Since last summer, Foster has been calling the shots in dealing with club owner Stu Sternberg's request to examine possible stadium sites in Hillsborough County. Foster has forbidden it, saying the Rays can explore locations only in St. Petersburg or adjacent land. Otherwise, Foster has said, the club must honor its agreement to play at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. Sternberg has called that prospect economically unfeasible.

Foster said Friday that there's no need to update the council because there's nothing to report.

Curran "knows everything that I know," Foster said. "I think the people know everything that I know because it's been in the media. I literally have told you everything."

Curran said she made her request based partly on media reports.

She said she wants the council to be part of the decisionmaking process and questioned whether Foster understood that. A Times story Thursday quoted him saying that council members liked staying out of the debate because "they enjoy having me take the hits on this."

Curran said that's not true and that if she continues to support the city's position, she wants more information.

"There's just been no transparency," she said.

Earlier this week, she proposed in a memo that the city "explore conditions allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to engage in conversation with entities in the Tampa Bay area."

St. Petersburg business leaders and others have asked the city to allow the Rays to hold stadium talks with Tampa interests.

Such talks would have to be "subject to compensation (to be determined) to be paid to the city,'' Curran said in the memo that proposed the subject be added to Thursday's meeting.

It was later withdrawn, replaced by her general request for an update about the Rays and options for breaking the stalemate.

Council member Steve Kornell liked the idea of a discussion about the Rays but said it should be limited to possible stadium sites in St. Petersburg — either downtown or in the Gateway area.

The Rays might soften their stance if the city presented a concrete proposal that included a site and possible financing, Kornell said. "We can push it forward that way and break this stalemate."

Wengay Newton and Karl Nurse also said they will support Curran's request.

"We're not getting much information, so I'd be happy to have the conversation," Nurse said. "It can only help. I think it's in our community's interest to talk with the Rays, and not just communicate with them through broadsides published in the newspaper."

Council Chair Jim Kennedy, however, said he doesn't need an update. He has talked with Foster and administrative staff and "I understand the goals, objectives and actions,'' namely to "keep major league baseball in St. Petersburg while maintaining good relations with the Rays."

Any discussions would likely involve legal matters, Kennedy said, and would best be handled in a confidential meeting with city attorneys.

Herb Polson said he would support Curran's request as long as the city's legal department agrees.

City Attorney John Wolfe said the council has the power to alter the contract as members see fit.

If the council approves Curran's request, then "we will go back and review options that we have already considered and see if there is anything different that we can do," Wolfe said.

Officials with the Tampa Bay Rays, as has been the club's policy, wouldn't comment.

Curran said it was her impression that the city staff wasn't happy with her requests, adding it was "certain vibes" she got.

Noting that Foster meets frequently with business leaders about the Rays, as he did with the pro-baseball group Clutch Hitters on Wednesday, some council members wonder if they are being left out of important discussions.

"It would be nice to know what's going on," Newton said. "He's leaving these meetings by going out the back door, avoiding reporters, and we're not getting any feedback."

If anyone would know, aside from Foster, it would be Rick Mussett, the city's senior administrator of city development.

He was on vacation, however, and couldn't be reached.

Foster said Mussett is working on no secret plan.

"I can assure you that that is not happening," he said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler @sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg City Council to weigh in on city's stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:26pm]
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