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St. Pete and Tampa City Council chairmen have different vision for Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera welcomes the challenge of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays. His St. Petersburg counterpart, Charlie Gerdes, says he’s not interested in sharing the team with Montreal.
Tampa City Council Chairman Luis Viera and his St. Petersburg counterpart, Charlie Gerdes, discussed regional cooperation in Tampa on Friday morning. [Charlie Frago]
Published Sep. 27
Updated Sep. 27

TAMPA — Charlie Gerdes and Luis Viera don’t see eye to eye on this region’s ability to support a major league baseball team for an entire season.

Or which city could better support a franchise.

Gerdes, chairman of the St. Petersburg City Council, said Rays owner Stu Sternberg has been firm in his belief that the Sunshine City can only support 41 games a year.

In June, the Rays announced their plan to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal.

“None of us, Montreal, Tampa, St. Petersburg, can support 81 games on their own,” Gerdes said Friday morning before a Cafè con Tampa crowd at the Oxford Exchange. “(Sternberg) told St. Petersburg, to our face, to the mayor, to me...You build me a stadium on the Al Lang site, on the water, I will not give you 81 games. He’s told us that. I don’t think he’s negotiating. I think he’s being honest.”

Kriseman’s office and the Rays declined to comment Friday on the details of their negotiations.

Gerdes said the attendance woes in St. Petersburg—"a track record that stinks"—aren’t likely to change if the team relocates across the bay.

Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera didn’t agree.

“I believe there will be a material change,” Viera said about attendance.

Before the team announced its split season proposal, Viera said, a stadium in Ybor City was seen as “one of the big ideas that would take Tampa to the next level.”

And while playing halfsies with Montreal dealt a big blow to the region, Viera said he believes hope still lives on in the state’s third-largest city.

“We like big ideas. We like big challenges,” Viera said.

For now, that hope will have to be put on ice. Since the Ybor City stadium proposal fell apart in December, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has declined to reopen a path for Tampa to talk to the team, which has a contract to play at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. The Rays previously had a three-year window to negotiate with Tampa and Hillsborough, which Kriseman successfully pushed through in St. Pete.

Gerdes said he isn’t interested in a 41-game scenario for St. Petersburg.

“We want to redevelop 85 acres of the Trop. So if Tampa is interested in a sharing, and Tampa gets to decide that not St. Pete, if Tampa is interested, I’m willing to allow Tampa to explore a sharing thing,” Gerdes said.

Viera said Tampa has a place for the Rays in its vision of the future.

“I think it goes to the heart of the optimism and the vigor that the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County is going to have, which is why it’s so important to continue to have some sort of dialogue,'' he said. "If the Rays leave the region, that’s a real big failure on our part.”

After the meeting, Viera clarified that he was only interested in a full-time baseball team. He and Gerdes share the same skepticism of the Rays’ Montreal plan.

“41 just isn’t something that I think there is support for. It doesn’t, I think, give rise to the kind of community support such an endeavor would require,” Viera texted to the Times Friday morning.

Times staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this report.


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