ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said it's "imperative" that talks on a new stadium progress because Major League Baseball will soon press the issue.
To which St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said, essentially, bring it on.
Sternberg, speaking before Friday's season opener, said it wouldn't be long, perhaps within months, before MLB and commissioner Bud Selig get involved.
"It's imperative that we get this thing moving," Sternberg said. "The can has been kicked down the road and the road is not much longer … But there needs to be some progress. … And I think my patience is greater than Major League Baseball's."
Foster said the city has no concerns about the team leaving and isn't too worried about increased threats.
"The city is prepared for interference from Major League Baseball and all of the Selig tricks that have been used successfully elsewhere," he said. "We've studied it, we know it and we're prepared.
"We understand where Major League Baseball could get involved, but we also understand where Major League Baseball has weaknesses as well. We're all grown-ups. And I will say, the city of St. Pete, we know how to dance. And right now we just want to play ball."
Gov. Rick Scott also was on hand for Friday's game, and Sternberg said he hoped to talk with him about the stadium issue. "He's very pro business, and I'd like to think that we're a good business," Sternberg said.
Scott wouldn't address the issue with reporters, making only a 30-second statement in which he predicted a Rays victory and said "hopefully everybody keeps showing up. This is going to be a great team this year and we hopefully have a lot of sellouts."
Foster talked to Scott and said it was his impression there was "no money" for a publicly financed stadium. He said the old model of the team, state and local governments each contributing one-third of the cost would no longer be feasible. "(The Rays) would have to do better," he said.
With the Rays signed to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, Foster has agreed only to talk about a new stadium in St. Petersburg or sites within Pinellas County, refusing to grant the Rays permission they've asked for to explore other potential sites in the Tampa Bay area.
Foster did leave open the possibility that if there was no solution in Pinellas County, he could allow the Rays to look elsewhere.
Sternberg said it was just as important that they get permission to explore and that leaders in the community step up.
"We're not leaving, we're not going anywhere, baseball is not pushing it, but it's a baby step just to explore, and we need to at least take that baby step," he said. "I'm depending on leaders being leaders, basically, and doing what's right and, most importantly, what's good for the population in general, for your constituents as well."
Foster said he personally likes Tropicana Field, though Sternberg doesn't, and that if there was a new stadium, he would expect it to be domed.
Foster said he and Sternberg haven't talked about the stadium situation since last year, though they did have a brief exchange by the dugout after both spoke to the media.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]sptimes.com.