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Sternberg: If deal fails, Rays may leave area

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that Thursday’s council vote remains “a big hurdle.”
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that Thursday’s council vote remains “a big hurdle.”
Published Dec. 10, 2014

SAN DIEGO — Having spent years working toward the agreement for permission to look for new stadium sites, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg remains confident that with a perfectly designed and located new ballpark, baseball can be a smashing success in the Tampa Bay area.

But if the agreement is not approved and a new stadium is not under construction within the next few years, Sternberg said there will be no baseball at all — "we're doomed to leave" — as he likely will sell the team, and a new owner will move it after the Tropicana Field lease expires in 2027.

"I'm not moving this team. I'm not taking this team out of the area. But that's me," Sternberg said at baseball's winter meetings in San Diego.

"The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don't have a new stadium are probably nil. Somebody else will take it and move it. It's not a threat, just the reality."

While acknowledging approval by the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday remains "a big hurdle," Sternberg said that despite years of low attendance, he still believes in the Tampa Bay market.

"I think baseball can still flourish down here, and I'm looking for the opportunity to make that happen," he said. "We need to get the building and the location pinpoint perfect for that to happen."

Sternberg said the Rays had not yet considered preferences for new sites, and even if all went smoothly they still would play in the Trop for four to five years. Also, it was still "very possible" they would end up building on a site in St. Petersburg.

Sternberg said the terms negotiated with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on the agreement that will go to a City Council vote are pretty much final — "This is it" — and he wouldn't think there is room for more than minor changes.

He praised Kriseman for his work in what was "a tough negotiation" and said he felt the terms were "just painful enough all around but mostly overly fair and the right thing for the citizens of St. Petersburg."

Sternberg said he didn't know exactly what they would do if the agreement is not approved by the council, but he certainly sounded discouraged by the prospects, adding that it could lead to the team leaving the market.

"If it doesn't pass, we're doomed to leave …" he said.

"As time goes by there is way less value for us and less opportunity for us to give more value up for it, to leave. If this takes another six years, we're there until 2027 regardless, so it's not like we have 12 years left. We basically have five to six years left and we've already been at this for seven years, so we shall see."

Sternberg said he didn't have a gut feeling on Thursday's vote.

"I feel confident that I know each of the people on the council individually have the best interest of the citizens of St. Petersburg at heart," he said, "and as a baseball guy I believe that having baseball in their midsts, in the citizens of St. Petersburg's midsts, for generations to come, and the city getting its land to use, a lot of acreage to really develop and help the city take off, and, look, it still remains very possible that we still can be in St. Petersburg."

Sternberg said team officials had no preferences on a new site as they haven't focused on that and won't until the agreement is approved by the council.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.