A new year offers a fresh start, so we'll take St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's scheduled meeting with Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg later this month as a hopeful sign in the stadium stalemate. It's not exactly the Paris peace talks, but it's a start.
For those of you keeping score at home, the Rays want a new stadium to replace outdated Tropicana Field. Foster offered in 2010 to let the Rays look elsewhere within or just outside the city limits. Sternberg reasonably responded that he wants to look at the entire market, which means Hillsborough County as well as Pinellas. Foster refused, and things haven't budged since if you discount the occasional trash talk about leases and lawsuits, secret plans by the mayor and ulterior motives by the team owner.
The economic realities haven't changed, either. The Rays rank near the bottom in Major League attendance, and the franchise needs a modern stadium to ensure its long-term future. The Rays are a regional franchise that should be treated as a regional asset. But a new stadium with a retractable roof can run $500 million or more, and it would take creative approaches to raise that much with public money and a significant investment from the Rays — on either side of the bay.
It's past time for Foster and Sternberg to find a way to advance a conversation that will require plenty of public input. The mayor's invitation to chat is a positive development, and both men should show up on Jan. 17 offering more than their pat positions. And as long as we're talking baseball in January, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in only 44 days and the Rays need another power hitter.