St. Petersburg City Council member Leslie Curran and her colleagues waited as long as they could for some leadership from Mayor Bill Foster in the stadium stalemate between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays. Seeing none, council members reasonably want some answers, and they have a legitimate role to play in ensuring that the city explores all options and that the baseball franchise the community worked decades to attract remains in Tampa Bay.
Foster is not negotiating with the Rays in good faith, and he is not treating the franchise with the respect worthy of a prominent business with a significant financial and civic footprint. The mayor is becoming increasingly isolated in his stubborn insistence that the Rays cannot look at potential stadium sites in Hillsborough County. This is a regional franchise that needs to examine all of its core market, not just St. Petersburg or just outside the city limits in Pinellas County. The Clutch Hitters, a group of business leaders supportive of Major League Baseball, understand that. So do most City Council candidates. And so does Curran, who suggested in a memo that the issue be explored.
When the City Council discusses the issue today, here are five questions council members should ask the mayor:
1 Why do you fear allowing the Rays to evaluate potential stadium sites in Tampa?
Despite the Rays' lack of interest in a new stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, the city has a number of assets: the long-term stadium lease, publicly owned land, interstate access and a revenue stream of public money that could be redirected from Tropicana Field to help pay for a new stadium. Let's see how that stacks up to what the Rays might find in Tampa, whose assets include a broader business base and possibly shorter driving times for more fans.
2 What could St. Petersburg receive in return for allowing a broader search of stadium sites?
Allowing the Rays to look in Hillsborough is worth something. Reasonable negotiators could agree on fair compensation that would allow the Rays to look only in Pinellas and Hillsborough for a limited time, and the city still has the long-term lease.
3 How does refusing to allow the Rays to look at possible stadium sites in Hillsborough benefit the city's negotiating position?
Every year that goes by, the less that is owed on the bonds that paid for the Trop and the less time that remains on the stadium lease, which expires in 2027. The city's leverage decreases as the clock ticks, and it becomes less expensive for the Rays to buy their way out or for a future owner to move the team and fight in court.
4 What are the long-term time lines and financial considerations?
Studying stadium sites, identifying revenue options and building public support takes time. A stadium is not going to be built soon, but Tampa Bay should be poised to move when the economy recovers.
St. Petersburg should study all of its options. The Tropicana Field site was attractive to developers when the Rays proposed their ill-fated waterfront stadium, and it will be again when the economy revives. Compare the cost of building a stadium and the economic impact of Major League Baseball in the city to saving the money a new stadium would cost, selling the Trop site to private developers, revitalizing that portion of the city and bringing spring training back to St. Petersburg. The more information, the better informed the decisions.
5 If the Rays do not want a new stadium in St. Petersburg, would you rather residents drive to Tampa to see their favorite players or fly to Charlotte?