It's probably for the best that the city of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays have put off negotiations over a new stadium until after the World Series. That gives Mayor Bill Foster and the small minds on the City Council more time to take off their blinders and see that a regional baseball franchise requires a regional approach.
To give the mayor the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Foster is methodically playing his cards. First he tried to focus on the Tropicana Field site in downtown St. Petersburg. The Rays rejected the Trop site and reasonably said they want to look at sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Foster countered by offering to allow the Rays to look in the Gateway area in mid Pinellas and just outside the city — but not in Tampa. The Rays predictably declined such a limited search. So the next card from the mayor should be offering to let the Rays look in both counties in return for some concessions, financial or otherwise.
If that's the strategy, there should be an attitude adjustment in City Hall between now and November. City Attorney John Wolfe should quit talking about court injunctions and gagging all meaningful stadium talk. City Council members should educate themselves on the economic realities of the Tampa Bay region and major league baseball, because they clearly don't grasp them now.
Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran's vision, for example, appears to stretch no further than a few blocks down Central Avenue. She inexplicably wonders what has changed since the Rays proposed a downtown waterfront stadium nearly three years ago. Let's see: The proposal collapsed with a lack of support from then-Mayor Rick Baker and council members. The team has had a winning record on the field for three years, played in a World Series — and still draws below-average crowds. The ABC Coalition documented that the Trop is outdated, the Rays lack adequate corporate support and other potential stadium sites are more centrally located to the fan base.
Tampa Bay has a major league baseball franchise in large part because of the vision, creativity and perseverance of St. Petersburg officials from another era. It would be a shame if St. Petersburg politicians lacking those qualities drove the franchise away.