ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays’ flag has flown above City Hall many times since 2008. Eight times, in fact, for each postseason.
While playoff appearances have remained consistent, relations between St. Petersburg city officials and the Rays’ front office haven’t always been. With a historic tentative agreement to build the Rays a new ballpark, city and county leaders were joined by Rays management Tuesday to celebrate the Rays’ fifth straight playoff appearance and St. Petersburg’s future as a Major League Baseball city.
“It’s all the more special because we are closer than ever to building our Rays a new home right here in St. Petersburg,” said Mayor Ken Welch at his second Rays playoff flag raising. “We are proud to have a very special baseball team in the Tampa Bay Rays as part of our community, and to have them here to stay.”
The Rays’ first playoff game against the Texas Rangers home at Tropicana Field allowed Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, his son Jake Sternberg, co-presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld to help raise the flag. Sternberg thanked the city and Rays fans, adding that the Rays have had the third most wins in all of baseball since 2008.
“We’ve raised a number of banners over the years,” Stuart Sternberg said. “We like raising things.”
Pinellas County Commission chairperson Janet Long said it was the “greatest feeling” to know that the Rays are committed for the long-haul. She called it “one of the biggest deals that has ever happened in the city of St. Petersburg.”
“We’ve all waited with great expectations and had great desire to make it happen,” she said. “And that just goes to show you that when you have willing partners who all have the same agenda, you can get stupendous things done.”
City Council vice chairperson Deborah Figgs-Sanders cheered on the Rays while flanked by council members Ed Montanari and Copley Gerdes.
“Let’s show the world why we are St Pete,” she said. “Let’s get ready to rally behind our Rays with everything we got.”
The Pinellas County Commission is scheduled to discuss a non-legally binding term sheet that outlines the framework of the deal with the Rays on Oct. 12. The St. Petersburg City Council will have its own discussion Oct. 26. A legally binding development agreement with money behind it wouldn’t be ready for signatures until 2024. That’s when the Rays would be officially locked into staying in St. Petersburg.
Asked what would happen if a deal were to fall through, Sternberg told the Times after the flag raising that the Rays are focused on getting a deal done.
“It’s not a secret. We have tried numerous plans over the years. We focus on that plan. We don’t have a plan B and we’d try to figure something out after the fact,” he said. “Right now, it’s purely all systems go and every indication we’ve gotten, I feel better about this than anything we’ve done to this point by far.”
Sternberg said the biggest change that led to striking a deal were the parties involved, including Welch, City Administrator Rob Gerdes and the support of the City Council and County Commission.
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“With the Rays, we take nothing for granted ever,” Sternberg said. “We’ll continue to move forward and do whatever is necessary to secure the new stadium.”