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St. Petersburg official: I was kept in the dark on plans for new Tampa Bay Rays park

Published Aug. 10, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — The talk of a private baseball stadium being built in the Carillon business park has intensified the friction between the city's two top elected officials.

City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran has accused Mayor Bill Foster and Rick Mussett, a senior administrator, of keeping mum on the proposed stadium for a year.

She pointed to a memo from August 2011 in which she asked the city to talk with entities in the Tampa Bay area about a new stadium. On Wednesday, Curran said she changed the request at Mussett's urging to seek a discussion on options for breaking the stalemate between the Rays and the city.

She now believes Mussett knew about the plan revealed by real estate developer Darryl LeClair to build the new stadium.

"He knew about it," Curran said. "It's the same secret plan that staff knew about and talked with Darryl LeClair. They were in discussion with him."

Mussett is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

After months of secrecy, LeClair sent a letter Wednesday to Foster asking for an audience to pitch a new baseball stadium in Carillon just west of the Howard Frankland Bridge, in the Gateway area of the city.

His company, Echelon, controls roughly 12 vacant acres there. Foster expects the proposal to come next month before the City Council.

While whispers ran through City Hall last year about a secret plan, Foster said Curran is incorrect to assume that was LeClair's plan. That plan, he said, involved ways to keep the Rays in case Major League Baseball tried to move the team.

"My job is to make sure the Rays adhere to the contract," he said.

Foster says many people in town knew LeClair was working on a plan, but Foster stayed clear of the specifics because the proposal needed to be made publicly.

"My administration had nothing to do with plans that would have been contrived by a third party," he said.

Curran scoffed.

"It's just failed leadership," she said. "It's just not truthful."

Curran learned about LeClair's plan when Foster called her Wednesday. She said Foster told her the letter came from a company called CityScape and that he didn't know if the firm was owned by LeClair.

"He knows it is," she said. "I can't even believe that."

The revelation of LeClair's plan came a day after the Pinellas County Commission voted to request a meeting with the Rays and St. Petersburg officials to discuss the team's future. The week before, the Hillsborough County Commission decided to extend its own invitation to the team.

While Curran is thrilled about LeClair's plan, she says the city should have acted two years ago.

"Instead, we didn't do that," Curran said. "We should have been doing something to let the Rays know that we want them here."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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