ST. PETERSBURG — As hundreds of Tampa Bay Rays fans flooded Tropicana Field's plastic turf Saturday, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he'll seek a replacement stadium no later than 2022 — with or without permission from St. Petersburg.
For five years, city officials have blocked his request for a regionwide hunt for a new ballpark — most recently at a tense City Council meeting in December.
But the city's veto power does not extend to any stadium built after 2027, when the Trop contract expires. Planning and building a new stadium would take at least five years, Sternberg said. He wants to start a search soon enough so that play in a new stadium can begin as soon as the Trop contract ends.
"We need a ton of time,'' Sternberg said. "Right now we are talking about trying to build something in the Tampa Bay region that would have us playing before 2028. But at some point, we have to start looking at 2028.''
Sternberg made his unusually frank comments in a question-and-answer session with the Tampa Bay Times while he was in town for an annual Fan Fest celebration.
He also said Rays executives will skip further City Council meetings after some council members called Rays President Brian Auld "arrogant" after the December meeting.
And Sternberg denied having designs on development rights to the Tropicana Field site, a key sticking point for some council members.
You have said since 2010 that you will not negotiate on a new St. Petersburg stadium site unless you can explore Tampa options as well. Might you change your mind?
No. It is more clear than ever that we need to make sure it's going to be in the pitch-perfect spot.
Assuming it takes at least five years to build a new stadium, will you start a regional search without St. Petersburg's permission by 2022?
Absolutely. Before that. I haven't thought of a timetable, but five years is a minimum from the time you would start the process to when you would ring the bell.
At that point would you also look at competing cities outside the Tampa Bay region?
I haven't focused on that. My commitment is to get something done in this region.
If you play at the Trop while building a new stadium somewhere else, and the city develops some of the Trop acreage, what share of dollars would you want?
None. I don't want construction on my front door while we are playing baseball. We need parking, we need access. I would not say absolutely no, but the important part of this thing is that I am not looking for any monetary benefit for any development.
If Mayor Kriseman returns to the City Council with a new stadium agreement, will you attend?
We have had meetings with council members individually multiple times and we are open to continuing to meet with them individually. I don't see myself personally attending another council meeting — or my staff.
It was a mistake to have our people at the last council meeting. This was a deal we struck with the mayor. It's the city's issue, not my issue. A mob mentality just does not seem to work, for us to show up. Our president came to the meeting last time and was very open with the council, and the criticism he received afterwards was uncalled for and unjust. We had nothing but the best intentions of doing what's best for the Rays and for St. Petersburg.
What went wrong?
I don't know. I cannot look into their minds. Everyone was talking about their position, and they should be. They are looking out for themselves and looking after the citizens of St. Petersburg. Some people are trying to get elected to other offices or for whatever reason do things politically. Good questions were asked. Maybe we did not answer correctly.
Would you expect this council to pass a new agreement to allow a regional search?
I think there will be an agreement and I think it's passable. I don't know if it is next month, or this year or over time. It is in the interests of the citizens of St. Petersburg to put money on the tax rolls here. The council came out of the (December) meeting wanting this and that. I don't even know where they left it the other day (after a workshop meeting). They said it was a great meeting. All right. So now, what do you want to do?
The mayor wants to develop the Trop with a new stadium on it. Would the Rays consider a lead role in a project like that?
Doubtful. We could be involved, but that is not my focus.
Are you tired of this?
We have been at it for 10 years. But it's baseball. We love putting the product on the field, and you come out and see all the faces here on a day like this, you never get tired.
What one message would you like to send the council?
I genuinely appreciate them taking the time and effort to focus on the Rays and the future of baseball.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction in Rays owner Stuart Sternberg's final answer. He said he "genuinely'' appreciates the City Council's efforts. An earlier version incorrectly used the word "generally.''