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Even before the week began, word that the Tampa Bay Rays' principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, had an important announcement was the talk of the town.

By Monday afternoon, Sternberg's assertion that downtown St. Petersburg is no longer a good fit had gone viral.

So just 21/2 years after the Rays announced plans for a $450 million, downtown waterfront stadium complete with a 330-foot centerfield mast, he appears to be channeling Art Modell?

There are still 17 years left on the contract binding the Rays to Tropicana Field.

One of the reasons downtown St. Petersburg no longer fits into the Rays' plans could be the way the community balked at the waterfront proposal. That plan, which the team withdrew, called for using a $60 million state sales tax subsidy and up to $300 million from hotel tax money, city subsidies, and the sale and redevelopment of the publicly owned Trop site to help finance construction of the new stadium.

Poor Stu. He just wants a new stadium and if he can't get what he wants, he'll just take his team and go elsewhere.

No more Rays for you, says Sternbergermeister.

One of the problems is that the Rays rolled into town in 1998 with lots of promises and, until 2008, delivered little.

Meanwhile, downtown St. Petersburg began to thrive, but not because of the Rays.

Many developers, business owners and artists in this town would scoff at the claim of some Rays supporters that the team is a shot in the arm for local business. Ferg's Sports Bar is an exception, but it had a loyal following before baseball arrived.

Russ Bond, general manager of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, estimates that 5 percent of the hotel's business comes from visiting teams and fans who are here for 81 games a year. If the team leaves downtown, he says, it would be a "huge loss" for the hotel and the city.

But the Vinoy, one of the city's jewels, is usually at capacity, especially for weddings and conferences, said Mary LeMay, a receptionist in guest services at the hotel. "We're packed right now," LeMay said Thursday evening.

The business group ABC Coalition said in January that estimates have put the team's annual economic impact as high as $298 million. But, as some sports economists have noted, that's a stretch.

Ovation, Signature, Park Shore and Vinoy Place condominiums weren't built because there is a Major League Baseball team here.

Here's a reality check: The Rays are not the heart of downtown. The sprawling vistas of public waterfront are the crown jewel of this city. You can see why the Rays once wanted to be a part of that scene.

Beach Drive has become a great destination because of its other attributes - the beautiful waterfront with passive parks close to shops and restaurants.

Bars and restaurants like Drynk, Taps Wine and Beer Merchants, and Acropolis Bar & Grill are lining up to come to downtown. When I talked to the owners of those establishments a few weeks ago, not one mentioned the Rays connection - or BayWalk, for that matter.

"St. Pete ... is such an artistic area and I don't think people understand that," said Brian Pascual, one of Drynk's five owners.

Costa Waz is co-owner of Acropolis, which will open in the Bella Brava spot on Aug. 1. "We've always wanted to be downtown," he said.

Richard Fabrizi and his business partner, shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, are part of the growing group of business owners who have hopped aboard the I Love Downtown express.

For the record, I'm a Rays fan with practical leanings toward the Trop. So are many St. Petersburg residents who want the city to fight to keep them here.

Mayor Bill Foster and his legal team are bracing for a legal showdown.

"The taxpaying residents of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Major League Baseball and the Rays," Foster said. "Above all else, their interests will come first."

Foster said the city is open to sites elsewhere in the city, including the Gateway area, but not to talk of moving to Tampa.

Other local leaders are also weighing in on the matter.

"You would think that the re-creation of a livable downtown would support the fan base that the Rays would find favorable," said Will Michaels, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

"Personally, I'm an enthusiastic fan of the Rays and hope that the team remains in St. Petersburg."

Let's hope the Rays and the city can find a happy medium.

Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at or (727) 893-8874.