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Kriseman confirms Tampa Bay Rays didn’t make a “formal request” to explore Montreal idea

But the mayor did say the team “asked to explore the Montreal concept.” Just not formally.

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman last week confirmed what Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg already said: the Rays didn’t ask for “formal” permission from Kriseman to explore their idea of splitting home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

The mayor said so during a Tuesday interview inside his office at the old St. Petersburg Police headquarters building, which is the temporary City Hall while that building undergoes renovations.

But on Saturday, Kriseman clarified his remarks. The team, he texted through a spokesman, “asked to explore the Montreal concept.” Just not formally.

The informal request took place at the old police headquarters on July 23, the first meeting between city and team leaders since Sternberg announced in June the split-season idea, which would have the team playing home games during the first part of the season at an open-air stadium in the Tampa Bay area before finishing the season at a home ballpark in Montreal.

The team is bound to play its home games in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, and are prohibited by an exclusivity clause in the Trop’s contract from negotiating to play anywhere else during the contract term. In order to explore playing in Montreal before 2027, the city would have to suspend the exclusivity clause — as city leaders did in 2016 when they let the team try for a new stadium in Tampa.

Kriseman said he reiterated to Sternberg and his deputies, team Presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld, that he awaits a formal request.

Kriseman’s office on Saturday wouldn’t say what constitutes a “formal request.” Nor would it share Kriseman’s response to the informal request, saying the mayor didn’t wish to get into the negotiations.

The 90-minute meeting between city and team leaders was primarily spent shoring up what has historically been a friendly relationship between Kriseman and Sternberg that recently iced over after the Rays’ surprise Montreal announcement in June, the mayor said.

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

“I think this was just really a way of ensuring that, in fact, the relationship wasn’t broken, that we could continue to have dialogue and talk about the future,” Kriseman said on Tuesday. "And, you know, it really was about, ‘Okay, let’s reestablish communications, let’s agree upon what we’re going to talk about the next time we get back together again.’ "

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

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

Meanwhile, the mayor explained to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday why the conversations Sternberg had with Montreal businessman Steven Bronfman did not, in his view, constitute a violation of the exclusivity clause. Kriseman said the team assured the city that any conversations were about the 2028 season or beyond — anything beyond the Trop contract term is fair game.

The mayor did fire a warning shot to the Rays, foreshadowing a showdown if the team were to try to negotiate with the Montreal group before receiving permission: “But you know, if we had documentation or there was information that contradicted that it was about prior to 2027, it’d be a different situation," Kriseman said Tuesday.

“That could certainly be problematic," he added.

Kriseman said he has not spoken to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred since the Montreal announcement, nor has he spoken with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante about the proposal. The next step, he said, is to schedule a second meeting with Sternberg.