ORLANDO — If you're waiting for the Rays' next move in the stadium effort, there isn't necessarily one.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday that there instead need to be several — from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster allowing the team permission to consider sites throughout the Tampa Bay area, and from community, business and political leaders joining what he wants to be a group effort.
"There's no great plan in place," Sternberg said. "My plan is to try and make this an open, transparent collaborative effort among the largest, widespread group of people. The ABC (community coalition) was formed with people across the region, and we'd like to follow up on that and continue to be inclusive and find if the Rays in fact are a valuable part of the region. If so, what can and what will we all do to try to ensure the team's success going forward."
During a half-hour wide-ranging interview with the St. Petersburg Times prior to the start of Wednesday's MLB owners meeting, Sternberg talked about the challenges ahead as they reduce payroll, his reflections on his five years of ownership and his commitment to the Tampa Bay area.
But most topical were his first extended comments on the stadium situation since June. From what he said, two things seem clear:
• He wants leaders from the community — individuals, smalls groups, competing groups — to step up and "try to help figure this thing out," similar to the 1980s-90s effort to land a team.
"People got together and put their reputations and their livelihoods on the line to bring baseball here," he said. "So clearly, it can be done. Nobody came in with a plan to do all this. It was a collaborative effort, and that's what I'd like to see happen. And we're willing and ready to work with it once that gets done."
• Permission to explore sites throughout the entire area remains imperative for the team to develop any specifics (such as their 2007 proposal for a stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront) and Sternberg — who first made the request in June and thus far has been denied by Foster, citing the lease with the city that runs through 2027 — might be willing to initiate further conversation.
"If we're given the opportunity to explore all the areas, we can work much more diligently and put the resources behind it to do it," Sternberg said, "but it's still going to be a collaborative effort regardless."
Here are excerpts of Sternberg's comments on other issues:
• On fielding the 2011 team with a reduced, but not specifically defined, payroll: "I'm certain we're going to be very proud of the product we put out. It's going to be more challenging. And it's going to be exciting. … We've got a great core group of guys, and the question is how things play out this offseason."
• On the five-year anniversary of taking over the team: "There are a lot of different ways to measure it, but purely on wins and losses, extraordinarily pleased. In the process we took to get there, outstanding. There's very, very little, if anything, I would change in what we've done to this point. We've made mistakes certainly, but they're only in hindsight."
• On concerns over Tampa Bay as a sports market given the Bucs also having attendance problems: "There have been concerns about the market. It's not the perfect market, but we believe the support can be there."
• On the payroll in the future: "It will be dependent upon what's available and how our guys are doing. If we had been league average (in attendance) the last few years, the payroll would be a lot higher this year. … We can't sustain ourselves running a payroll anywhere near what we did the last couple of years ($73 million in 2010, $63 million in 2009)."
• On attendance: "The biggest challenge is getting people into our stadium. This challenge (of fielding a team with a reduced payroll) is small compared to that challenge."
• On his commitment to the team: "I plan on owning the team a very long time."
• And the area: "This is our home, Tampa Bay is our home. We're going to leave no stone unturned. I don't know many stones are left, but we're going to leave no stone unturned."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.