ST. PETERSBURG — On his first full day as president of the Tampa Bay Rays, Brian Auld was openly hopeful about what is likely to be the most daunting challenge of his tenure: getting a deal in place for a new stadium.
"I'm optimistic," Auld said. "I think that things are going very well with (St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman). I think we're having productive talks. And I really look forward to seeing what the future brings.
"Obviously, we need to figure it out, and we understand that — I think our incentives and the community's incentives are perfectly aligned. Now figuring out exactly what that is, and where the stadium should go, is very challenging. But it needs to go in the best place for the Rays, and it needs to go in the best place for the community."
The most pressing step in the process is working out an agreement with Kriseman and St. Petersburg officials that would allow the Rays, committed to Tropicana Field through 2027, to look at sites elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area.
Auld said he shares in the optimism of others that an agreement could be reached before the end of the year.
"I would certainly hope that would happen," he said.
Spokesman Ben Kirby said Kriseman was working on a similar timetable.
"The talks are still confidential, but the mayor has said they've been productive and he's optimistic," Kirby said. "We're hopeful for a deal by the end of the year. They've clearly gotten to some specifics."
If and when that happens, the next, much larger step is to find a site and arrange financing. The Rays are expected to look seriously at sites in Tampa, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn suggesting a deal can be made.
Auld said he was optimistic that also can be worked out.
"We do have to do one (first), so the optimism on the other one is less well informed than the optimism about figuring out something with the city of St. Pete," he said.
Auld, 37, will assume the lead role in those talks, which had been handled most recently by Matt Silverman, who took over as president of baseball operations after Tuesday's departure of Andrew Friedman.
Auld said in his previous role as senior vice president of business operations he had "ridden sidecar" on the stadium issue and felt he was "up to speed." He said he also would rely heavily on Melanie Lenz, the vice president of development who took over much of the stadium project when Michael Kalt departed in January for private business. Auld said he would consult frequently with principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
On Tuesday, Sternberg said the long track of the project — going back to their first proposal in 2007 — has had an impact on the effort.
"The delays that we've had and the fits and starts going through multiple mayors here and what's gone on with us since we first tried to build a stadium in 2007, it doesn't make it easier to keep talented individuals around," he said. "So if it comes to it and happens, we will be involved and the Rays will be there, but it's going to be much more difficult for us to completely lead that process."
Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.