St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is sure making a lot of noise while refusing to talk. By insisting he can’t negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays because of a lawsuit among the team owners, Kriseman is sidelining the city in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of baseball in the region. It’s simple, really: To keep the Rays in St. Petersburg, Kriseman should keep talking with the team.
The stadium soap opera is now 13 years running. The characters change, but the story line hardly seems to budge: The Rays are unhappy in their current home at Tropicana Field, which struggles to draw crowds and lacks the glamor and amenities of modern ballparks. The team is locked into a lease agreement with St. Petersburg that ends after the 2027 season.
St. Petersburg, of course, wants to keep the Rays. But Tampa and other sites are interested too. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg wants to split the season between Tampa Bay and Montreal. That’s at the heart of a new lawsuit against Sternberg, brought by a group of minority owners who accuse him of secretly working on a Montreal deal and excluding them. It’s also why Kriseman now says he “can’t negotiate” with Sternberg about the team’s future.
But the lawsuit — any lawsuit — is merely a list of allegations. What’s more, this one boils down to an internal dispute over team finances and ownership. It does not preclude Kriseman from talking to Sternberg, who remains the majority owner. Kriseman insists he is looking out for the city’s best interests and protecting taxpayers. But how is a self-imposed stalemate accomplishing that?
What’s more, Kriseman has isolated himself — which is not exactly a position of power. St. Petersburg City Council members, business leaders and the chamber of commerce president are all beseeching him to restart talks. They’re reading the tea leaves that Kriseman, apparently, refuses to see: Hillsborough County officials recently spoke with the Rays again about a stadium site in Ybor City, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says she could work with Sternberg. Nashville also appears interested in luring the team away. The Rays are clearly ready to figure out their future, with or without St. Petersburg’s mayor.
Meanwhile, Kriseman keeps firing off vague salvos instead of having a direct conversation. “The residents of St. Petersburg and fans of the Rays should not be made to wait any longer for clarity” about the team’s plans, he said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. But then he stopped talking to the team. In a social media post days later, he wrote, “Leaders must have faith in the strength of their cities. When you govern or negotiate from a place of fear ... of no confidence in the greatness of your community, you lose.” But Kriseman isn’t negotiating at all.
It’s hard to have faith in — or even understand — Kriseman’s strategy, which has put him at odds with St. Petersburg leaders, creating an opening for other cities to woo the Rays while insisting the city has a stake in an internal team ownership dispute. With the Rays’ future in the region so uncertain, an ongoing conversation is crucial. Talking to the team is the best way of accomplishing Kriseman’s stated goal of keeping baseball in Tampa Bay.
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