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Rays, St. Petersburg leaders stay mum about meeting

Team owner Stu Sternberg says he didn’t ask Mayor Rick Kriseman for permission to explore a split-season idea. So what did they talk about?
Rays leadership Matt Silverman, left, Brian Auld and Stu Sternberg walk into the Old St. Pete Police Headquarters for a meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  [ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times]
Rays leadership Matt Silverman, left, Brian Auld and Stu Sternberg walk into the Old St. Pete Police Headquarters for a meeting with Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Jul. 23
Updated Jul. 24

ST. PETERSBURG — In 90 minutes, it never came up.

Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg says he did not formally ask St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman during their meeting Tuesday if the mayor would grant the team permission to explore the possibility of splitting home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal prior to 2027. Without Kriseman’s blessing, the plan goes nowhere.

So what did they talk about?

“The purpose of the meeting was just to re-start conversations that we’ve always had over the years that clearly had gone a little sideways in the press,” Sternberg said at Tropicana Field after the meeting, which included the owner and team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman for the Rays, Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin for the city. “I think we accomplished that and it was successful.”

THE IDEA: Rays explain details of Montreal plan: ‘This is not a staged exit.’

THE HISTORY: Three mayors. One owner. No deal. St. Pete’s futile history with the Rays.

The mayor declined to comment on the meeting through his spokesperson.

It was the first time Sternberg and Kriseman have met since the owner announced his intent last month to explore the split-season concept, which would have the team playing open air baseball in two new stadiums, dodging bad weather by playing the spring schedule in Tampa Bay when it’s mild, and transitioning to Montreal for the summer games.

Both sides were coy about the discussion topics leading up to and after the summit. Kriseman pulled his black SUV into his parking spot on the south side of the city’s old police headquarters — which is serving as temporary City Hall while the real one undergoes renovations — minutes before the 3 p.m. meeting and entered via the employee entrance. He wouldn’t speculate about how the encounter might go.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman enters the employee entrance of the old police headquarters building, which is serving as the temporary City Hall, before Tuesday's meeting with the Rays' senior leadership. It's their first meeting since Sternberg announced his intent last month to explore the idea of splitting the home season with Montreal. [JOSH SOLOMON | Times]

Sternberg, Auld and Silverman arrived minutes later, ascending the north side staircase.

"We're just going to talk today," Sternberg said on his way into the public entrance. The guests didn't sign in.

FROM ST. PETERSBURG: Why the Rays think their Montreal idea is so ‘amazing’

FROM MONTREAL: The Montreal perspective on the Rays’ split-season proposal

The two sides could hardly have been further apart when the meeting commenced. Kriseman, when he first heard the Rays were pushing the proposal, dismissed it as “a bit silly” and decried it as a negotiating ploy to extract more public money from city and county officials for a new full-time ballpark in St. Petersburg. He initially said he would not let the team out of its Tropicana Field contract, which includes a powerful exclusivity clause that prohibits the team from playing — or even negotiating to play — home games anywhere else through the 2027 season. Plus, he and county leaders said there is little appetite to commit public dollars to a part-time stadium.

The mayor later softened his stance, saying he would be willing to listen if the team wants to privately fund a new stadium in St. Petersburg for half a season’s worth of games. He warned, though, that permission would come at a cost to the team. Kriseman has maintained his belief that the Trop property, a ripe development opportunity on the edge of a growing downtown, is still the best long-term location for the team.

THE LEASE: Did the Rays’ talks with Montreal violate the Tropicana Field lease?

THE TROP: St. Petersburg’s future lies beneath Tropicana Field. Do the Rays stand in the way?

Sternberg has remained steadfast that he’s genuine about the idea. No, it’s not an exit strategy and, no, it’s not a negotiating tactic, he has said. He has pitched it to fans as the only way to keep big league ball in Tampa Bay.

Sternberg said the group will meet again soon but has not settled on a date.

Did he have a gut feeling about how receptive to the Montreal idea Kriseman was?

“I don’t, I don’t," the owner said. “It wasn’t about that at all today.”

Times staff writer John Romano contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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