ST. PETERSBURG — A relaxed, smiling Stuart Sternberg hinted at more upbeat relations with the city of St. Petersburg Tuesday, shortly before the Tampa Bay Rays' home opener at Tropicana Field.
Sternberg told a group of reporters that the team's goal has been to open some dialogue about stadium issues, and "we are being successful at that."
Perhaps as illustration, the Rays principal owner spent about 15 minutes talking with Mayor Bill Foster near the team's dugout after he spoke to reporters. The two last formally met in February to talk about the Rays' desire to look at new stadium options throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Said Foster after the chat: "We have a very collegial relationship, and we're communicating. So that's a good thing." He acknowledged there have been no major developments in the stadium issue.
Foster said they've been talking about finding a middle ground.
"He knows that my objective is to preserve the taxpayers' interest," the mayor said. "If there's a middle ground we can find and still do that, we're good."
Foster didn't have any specifics to offer in terms of what "middle ground" might mean, but said it has been a "good offseason."
"What's 'new' is that our staff is talking, we're looking to bridge the gap," Foster said. "And we haven't really done that before. So, yeah, I think there's a lot of new."
Earlier this year City Council member Charlie Gerdes floated a plan to let the Rays talk about possible new stadium locations with other governments in exchange for a fee. The plan didn't pass muster with the City Council in that first discussion. Sternberg, asked if he was prepared to pay money for permission to hold stadium talks elsewhere, said, "I'm always prepared for anything if the price is right."
He noted that the team, which is contractually obligated to play at the Trop through 2027, could be playing at the stadium for a number of more years. Even if plans for a new stadium got under way right now, he said, it would take five or six years to build.
"We're going to keep going until we can't go anymore," Sternberg said.
Another sign of a potential continuing dialogue: In recent years, the Rays have said they were going to avoid stadium discussions and negotiations during the playing season. But Tuesday, Sternberg said that wasn't necessarily the current plan.
"I'm up for anything that will make progress happen at any time," he said.