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  1. News

Tampa Bay Rays reach out to Pinellas County commissioners

ST. PETERSBURG —A Tampa Bay Rays official is quietly meeting with Pinellas County commissioners as a private developer prepares to unveil plans for a new stadium next week.

It's unclear how many of the seven commissioners have met with Michael Kalt, the team's senior vice president of development and business affairs. Clearwater land-use attorney Ed Armstrong has been working to set up the meetings, according to a county email.

Neither man returned calls for comment.

Commissioner Nancy Bostock had a "very short" meeting with Kalt and Armstrong on Tuesday.

"We really weren't able to have a substantive conversation," she said. "It was just about getting to know each other."

Commissioner Norm Roche met with the men last week and said that Kalt gave no indication of whether the team wants to remain in Pinellas County or move to another location in the bay area.

Roche said he doesn't believe they had any agenda.

"I think they really just wanted to gauge where our minds are," he said.

Commissioners Ken Welch and John Morroni are scheduled to meet with them Oct. 3.

"It's a chit-chat session," said County Administrator Robert LaSala, who also met with the Rays. "This is not about decision-making plans."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Council Chair Leslie Curran learned of the meetings from the Tampa Bay Times.

Foster said the meetings are a good sign because county officials would have to approve any stadium being built in Pinellas County.

"Good for them," Foster said about the Rays. "If anything is going to be built in Pinellas County, it would have to go through (the County Commission).

Foster hopes the team also schedules meetings with the eight City Council members.

"I would feel different if it was the Hillsborough County Commission," the mayor said.

The public will see designs for a privately designed stadium during a "special council meeting" on Sept. 28 at the Hilton hotel in the Carillon area.

CityScape, a firm owned by real estate developer Darryl LeClair, wants to build the stadium in the Carillon business park just west of the Howard Frankland Bridge in the Gateway area. LeClair controls roughly 12 acres of vacant land there where a stadium could fit.

During the meeting, neither the council nor the public will be allowed to ask questions.

Last week, Curran formally invited the commissioners to the presentation. In her invite, she noted that the council won't publicly ask CityScape questions to protect the city's contract that keeps the Rays at Tropicana Field through 2027.

Roche said he plans to attend the presentation, but isn't happy about the no-questions rule.

It's not the first time the Rays have used Armstrong.

The college pitcher-turned-lawyer has deep political connections and has solicited county commissioners in the past.

Armstrong has contributed cash and advice to some commission members and sometimes represents developers before them.