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With stadium debate swirling, Rays schedule announcement

ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will "make an important announcement regarding the future of the Rays franchise" today at Tropicana Field, team officials said Sunday.

The Rays declined to elaborate on what Sternberg plans to say. But the announcement that he will hold a 12:15 p.m. news conference fueled speculation that he will finally expound on the team's position on a new stadium.

The St. Petersburg Times reported Sunday morning that Sternberg had also asked for a meeting with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster this week.

"I'm just glad the discussion is starting,'' St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said Sunday. "Everything that people were hearing about involved Tampa, or Hillsborough County. It was not St. Petersburg."

Foster could not be reached for comment Sunday evening. Earlier, Rick Mussett, senior administrator for city development, said the Rays had requested time on the mayor's calender for "mostly a social visit."

Sternberg's news conference is scheduled to be carried live on Bright House Sports Network, Channel 47.

The Rays' owners have contended for several years that Tropicana Field cannot generate enough revenue to support consistently competitive teams. They have said they cannot play there through the entire term of their contract, which runs through 2027.

But since their 2008 proposal for a waterfront stadium fizzled amid widespread scorn, the owners have remained largely silent about alternatives to Tropicana Field.

Instead, they have deflected questions by saying they want to concentrate on building a good team and making another run to the World Series.

That silence apparently will end today — marking what could be the start of years of negotiations between the team, the city and the county, as well as a broader discussion about how badly taxpayers want to keep a major league team.

A coalition of community leaders has warned that, without making significant progress toward a new stadium, the Tampa Bay area risks losing the Rays.

Talk of possibly moving the stadium site to Hillsborough County has stirred passions on both sides of the bay. St. Petersburg officials keep saying they want the Rays to come forward with proposals.

Curran said she lobbied Rays president Matt Silverman this month when she threw out the first pitch at Tropicana Field.

"I … told him we ought to sit down and talk," Curran said.

Silverman responded that the team was seriously thinking of doing just that, Curran said.

A meeting between Sternberg and Foster could be "healthy,'' Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said Sunday. The Rays "and all of the community benefit from the exchange of ideas so everybody knows and understands each other's needs."

The county controls the hotel tax that helped build Tropicana Field and presumably would be used to underwrite any new stadium.

But Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel said the Rays had not contacted her for any face time.

"I guess we could all speculate'' about Sternberg's meeting with Foster, she said. "It might be interesting to be a fly on the wall."

Times staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this report.

The Rays said owner Stuart Sternberg will talk about the team’s future at a news conference at Tropicana Field.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Rays said owner Stuart Sternberg will talk about the team’s future at a news conference at Tropicana Field.

With stadium debate swirling, Rays schedule announcement 06/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 21, 2010 3:00pm]

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