In light of speculation brought about by my recent comments regarding the Tampa Bay Rays, I feel it is time to address certain elements of my plan to ensure that the Rays enjoy a long and successful future in St. Petersburg. By definition, a "plan" is a strategy or method for achieving an end or goal, which in this case is keeping the Rays competitive in the Tampa Bay region while protecting the significant investment made by the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County in attracting the Rays and Major League Baseball to our area.
My plan consists of three strategic elements: 1) ensuring that the legal integrity of the city's agreement with the Rays is not compromised; 2) supporting private sector efforts to retain the Rays as a regional asset without compromising the city's agreement with the Rays; and 3) continuing to support and promote the Rays as a professional sports franchise in west-central Florida.
At present, there is no plan by the city of St. Petersburg for the design and construction of a new baseball facility in Pinellas County, and no such discussions have occurred with the Rays since my becoming mayor. The city and the Rays are contractually obligated to Tropicana Field through 2027, and absent an addendum to this agreement, there can be no plan for a new facility. An addendum has been offered by the city to the Rays to allow the parties to explore viable sites in St. Petersburg and the Gateway area. The city is prepared, as part of its plan, to further its dialogue with the Rays so that such exploration and due diligence exercises can begin in the sunshine with our citizens fully informed.
We will also support the efforts of the private sector who are actively working on solutions at keeping the Rays as a regional asset, while remaining site-neutral and being sensitive to the contractual commitment the Rays have made to the citizens of St. Petersburg and Pinellas. These efforts involve, but are not limited to, the Tampa Bay Partnership, the chambers of St. Petersburg and Tampa, the Clutch Hitters, and many other dedicated business professionals who are passionate about the Rays and knowledgeable about the economics of baseball and development. The more information we have, and the more the community is engaged, the better the work product as we forge ahead toward solutions.
Community support from the region is paramount to the long-term success of the Rays, and the city is prepared to rally support from both sides of the bay as our Rays push for the playoffs this year and mount winning campaigns in future seasons. Marketing and personal appeals to the fans and business community are key, and I will work with the Rays to develop a regional strategy for fan appeal for our club and Tropicana Field. There is political will throughout the bay area for our team to succeed, and I will continue to enlist these leaders in our efforts to support this team just as I have done in the past.
With all this in mind, it should be no secret that the city of St. Petersburg has been preparing for any and all scenarios when dealing with the Rays and Major League Baseball. With the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars by the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas, and with 16 years remaining on our contract, one would be naive to believe that the city did not have a detailed plan to ensure that the Rays remain in St. Petersburg, or that the interests of our residents were being represented in earnest without regard to outside pressure from those who desire to subordinate the city's interest to those of the Rays or region.
My role as mayor is not to sell newspapers, advance a personal agenda, or entertain on the airwaves, and it would be a dereliction of my duty if I were to act contrary to the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers of St. Petersburg, and I will take no action, public or private, that will diminish the position of the city in its future dealings with the Rays. Indeed, I would much prefer to work with the Rays to explore solutions. However, as I have stated many times before, the city is prepared to address all challenges and scenarios, and since some may be undesired and unpleasant, these details of the plan will remain confidential. Awkward, yes, but we must balance the public's need to know now against the city's future public interests.
My door is always open, and I remain ready, willing and able to have meaningful discussions with the Rays following the World Series. Their attention is better served on the field, and we certainly do not need any distractions at this critical time in the season. In the meantime, please support our Rays as we push for the playoffs. These young men have given us their all, and they deserve nothing less than the same from all of us in Tampa Bay. Go Rays!
Bill Foster is mayor of St. Petersburg.