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Rays owner: No stadium talks on our part

PORT CHARLOTTE — Principal owner Stuart Sternberg says he knows no more about any ongoing discussions to build the Tampa Bay Rays a new stadium than anyone else following recent media reports.

Sternberg said Friday he and the team were "not involved" in any of the current talks and "haven't talked to anybody."

Having tried — and failed miserably — to get a new stadium on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront two years ago (and creating what he termed "a lot of discord in the community"), they'll wait and watch for now, he said as the team opened spring training. "When something is proposed, and there are some concepts out there and people want to move the ball forward, I'll be involved."

And then, he said, the final decision will not be the Rays' alone, but made "in concert with business leaders, community leaders and everybody else."

With St. Petersburg officials on the legal lookout after recent reports of interest from Hillsborough County parties, Sternberg's comments are sure to be watched closely.

"We have a stadium, we play in it, we've spent a ton of money putting it into the shape it's in right now, and we're enjoying our stay here and we'll let everybody else figure out what needs to be done," Sternberg said.

Asked if Hillsborough was the right choice for a new home, he replied: "We'll let everybody else figure that out."

And while he said the team is in St. Petersburg and "isn't going anywhere," he did reiterate the need for a new home — "the sooner the better" — and said of Tropicana Field: "I stated since the very first day I came in to anybody who asked, and I was asked quite often, we're not going to be there through 2027 (when the lease expires). It just can't happen. Baseball won't allow it. Our partners in baseball, the other teams, won't allow it. And it's just not the right thing for our organization and, quite frankly, it's not the right thing for the population."

He did acknowledge the conversations could be beneficial: "We're playing where we're playing, and the more talk and chatter about trying to make this team successful, the better."

Also Friday, a group seeking to drum up support for a Rays stadium in Tampa praised a separate group's study that listed downtown among the top options.

BuildItDowntownTampa.org has been collecting signatures for months to show support for a downtown Tampa stadium. Its statement about last month's report from the ABC Coalition, a group of business leaders formed to recommend options for the Rays' future, complimented the effort to frame the debate as a regional discussion.

"Regardless of where this stadium is ultimately constructed, it is important that those of us from Sarasota to Brooksville and all points in between engage in constructive conversations about what is best for our team and our region," the pro-downtown group said in a statement.

It went on to make the case for why a downtown Tampa location works best among five options the ABC Coalition report recommends.

BuildItDowntownTampa.org is not affiliated with Claire Clements, the Tampa developer who this week confirmed she created a conceptual plan for a new stadium downtown. But the group did react to some of the public dialogue that has resulted from that news, particularly the veiled threats of a lawsuit from the attorney for St. Petersburg, which has a contract with the Rays through 2027.

"Although government will be an important partner as this initiative progresses, we believe the Bay Area's corporate community needs to be the driving force behind a new stadium," it reads. "In the interest of open discussion, we ask all parties involved to refrain from threats of litigation or other punitive measures."

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays owner: No stadium talks on our part 02/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 11:17pm]
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