ST. PETERSBURG — City business leaders sent a letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman imploring him to resume working with the Tampa Bay Rays on a stadium deal that would keep the team in the Sunshine City — despite the legal battle between a group of the team’s minority owners and principal owner Stu Sternberg.
The letter was sent Thursday and signed by Chris Steinocher, president and chief executive of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce; J.P. DuBuque, president and chief executive of the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation; and Jason Mathis, chief executive of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. They also sent copies to the City Council and Pinellas County Commission.
The letter came a day after Kriseman declared during a radio interview that he “can’t negotiate” with the Rays over a new stadium while Sternberg remains at the helm and shrouded in legal uncertainty. The lawsuit accuses Sternberg of trying to pry the team away from the minority owners by pressuring them to sell their interests to him and transferring corporate ownership of the team to himself.
The suit asks for a jury trial, damages, a comprehensive review of the team’s finances and for Sternberg to be removed as general partner. The Rays deny the allegations.
Kriseman said on the JP Peterson Show on WWBA-AM 820 that if he strikes a deal with Sternberg and then a court removes the businessman as managing partner of the Rays, “Then I’ve got no deal.”
The mayor has said that Sternberg should temporarily relinquish his leadership role of the team during the lawsuit.
The Rays are contractually bound to play in Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, but after that the franchise’s future is both free and uncertain.
Sternberg has dismissed playing full-time in new stadiums in St. Petersburg and Tampa and has spent the past two years pursuing a split-season concept with Montreal. The Rays want to play half a season’s worth of home games in a new stadium somewhere in the Tampa Bay area and the other half in a new venue in Montreal.
Meanwhile Kriseman and team executives have been locked in stop-and-start negotiations over whether a new stadium could be built as part of the imminent redevelopment of the 86-acre Trop site. The dome will come down once the 2027 season is over.
The mayor, who is in his final year in office, has said he won’t commit dollars from the city’s general fund to help finance a new stadium for a part-time team. But business leaders believe talks should continue.
“In order to focus on forward progress, we feel confident that the city and county should continue to pursue discussions and actions to keep our hometown team in St. Pete,” they wrote. “This is where they belong. Recent news regarding a lawsuit between members of the Rays’ ownership group should not distract or delay the momentum. We want to focus our energy and conversations on finding a constructive path forward as we strive to keep this important business asset as part of our community.”
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“We appreciate our partnership with you and your administration and look forward to supporting the effort in forging positive, productive and thoughtful conversations for shared benefit.”
The Rays have had a busy week. Team president Brian Auld had lunch Thursday with Hillsborough County Commission Chair Pat Kemp and told her that the team was again looking at a Ybor City site for a new stadium, which would make Tampa it’s split-season home along with Montreal. The team said that meeting, and another this week with Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman, was scheduled before the lawsuit was filed in court.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Thursday she could work with Sternberg on a stadium deal. Castor told the Tampa Bay Times last month that she has restarted stadium talks with team leaders. And on Friday, Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda told the Times that Auld told him the team was also looking at Nashville.
St. Petersburg gave the Rays three years to find a new home in Tampa. But the team ended its efforts in December 2018 and Sternberg declared that the Ybor City site was no longer viable.
On Friday, St. Petersburg City Council Chair Ed Montanari announced he will host a Tuesday morning news conference at the Trop to discuss the future of the Rays in St. Petersburg.