TAMPA — Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda said Friday that Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld told him this week that relocating to Nashville might be in the cards.
The revelation comes amid discord between the team and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has cut off negotiations with team owner Stu Sternberg as a lawsuit involving minority investors continues.
Miranda said Rays President Brian Auld brought up Nashville as a possible destination for the team if the solution for a new Rays ballpark doesn’t materialize in Tampa.
“They mentioned Nashville. They said Nashville wants to do it,” Miranda said, recounting what he was told by Auld and Rays vice president for public affairs and corporate communications Rafaela Amador.
Miranda said Auld sung the praises of the Music City and its devotion to its professional sports franchises like the NHL’s Predators and the NFL’s Titans.
“In conversation they’re looking at different cities, they’d like to stay in Tampa,” Miranda said, adding that Auld characterized Nashville as “an appealing city to go to. They’re very into sports.”
Auld released a statement late Friday, clarifying that the team isn’t talking to officials in other cities.
“During the conversation with Councilman Miranda, I explicitly stated that we were not in conversations with other cities — though numerous cities, including Nashville and Charlotte, have expressed their strong interest in Major League Baseball. We are solely focused on the Sister City plan and keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay for generations,” the statement read.
But a change of address for the Rays 730 miles north to Tennessee was mentioned as a possibility by the head of a group trying to lure a baseball team to Nashville. When asked by The Tennessean earlier this month about the chances of the Oakland A’s moving to Nashville, the executive director of Music City Baseball, John Loar, said it was more likely that the Tampa Bay Rays would move there instead.
“I don’t think Oakland comes to this time zone,” Loar said. “The South is a great market, Nashville is a top market, in my opinion. This just shows that unless a city is willing to support its team they’re probably going to go to a market that will.”
Miranda’s political brand is challenging the support that teams get. He gained local fame for dressing in black after voters approved a sales tax to help build Raymond James Stadium in 1996. He’s also repeatedly said if the Rays want a Tampa ballpark, they need to pay for it.
Miranda’s comments capped a turbulent, news-making week for the Rays that further clouded its future in Tampa Bay. The week began with Kriseman shutting down talks with club officials. On Thursday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she wasn’t following suit and that she would be open to working with the team on a ballpark solution.
Meanwhile, Auld and Amador met virtually or by phone with two more Tampa City Council members: Chairman Orlando Gudes and Guido Maniscalco.
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Maniscalco said he supports the stance taken by Castor in keeping an open line of communication. He said Kriseman’s hard line puzzles him.
“I’m glad that Mayor Castor is open minded,” Maniscalco said, adding he expects Castor to seek and win a second term in 2023. “Soon, (Kriseman) will be out of negotiating position, but Castor is just two years in. She’ll be here for the long haul.”
Cutting off talks with the Rays like Kriseman did isn’t the way Maniscalco said he would have handled the situation.
“I try to always extend the olive branch. Communication is key. So much gets lost in not communicating,” Maniscalco said.
Gudes said he told Auld and Amador during a phone call that they made a mistake in their 2018 push for an Ybor City ballpark. The high-rollers were at the Italian Club for the team’s unveiling of its proposed $892 million stadium, but average people weren’t engaged.
“Last time, I thought that they did it wrong. Big hoopla... you invited everyone who was high dollar. Where were the community members at?” Gudes said.
East Tampa residents should be able to walk or ride a bike to the Rays games if a ballpark ever comes to pass, Gudes said. The Rays need to make sure they’re talking to the whole city, not just the deep pockets, he said, especially if the team plans to ask for taxpayer dollars down the road.
“Get everyone involved. Who’s going to want to pay for something if they’re not included? Gudes said.
Castor, who confirmed last month to the Tampa Bay Times that team officials had reached out to restart stadium talks, declined to join Kriseman in refusing to deal with Sternberg while a minority team investor lawsuit is ongoing. When Castor was asked if she can work with Sternberg, she responded: “You know me... I can work with anybody.”
The Rays have a legal agreement to play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until after the 2027 season.
The Rays also started meeting with Hillsborough County Commissioners this week. On Friday, Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has led the county efforts to bring the Rays to Tampa for years, said he was optimistic about a deal in Tampa getting done under the split-season concept.
And Ybor City is still preferred, he said.
“All their numbers reflect the fact Ybor, downtown Tampa gives the team the best opportunity to be successful in the long term, but they are open to considering other locations,” Hagan said.
And Hagan said federal infrastructure money, currently being debated in Congress, could be another promising development: “the timing actually could be opportune.”
Discussions in Hillsborough, though, are still preliminary, he cautioned.
“There was nothing close to negotiating or anything like that. I want to make sure I’m clear about that,” Hagan said.
Times Staff Writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.