ST. PETERSBURG — Let me see if I understand this correctly:
The Rays don’t want to talk about what they may or may not be offering the city in exchange for talking to Montreal, they don’t want to commit to how much they will spend on a stadium and they’re a little iffy on where they might want to build a part-time stadium.
The mayor doesn’t want to say publicly what the Rays have or have not offered and, six months after negotiations with the team began, apparently has not yet met with City Council members individually to keep them in the loop.
Meanwhile, keep buying them season tickets, y’all.
I don’t want to sound like a pox-on-both-of-your-houses guy, but this is ridiculous. The team and the city administration have built trenches on either side of Tropicana Field, and are refusing to raise their heads for fear of being Tweeted at.
Oh, they’ll say they are being respectful of the process and do not want to negotiate in public. But is it possible they’re just worried about looking unreasonable if everyone knew what was being demanded?
This latest verse of the Sound of Silence came Thursday afternoon when Mayor Rick Kriseman met with City Council members during a committee discussion. The point was, ostensibly, to give them an update after six months of negotiation.
Instead, the mayor said virtually nothing but promised to meet with members individually to fill them in. You might interpret this as blowing smoke up the council’s dais.
You see, the Rays have already met with city council members to lobby them on this issue. In some cases, they’ve met multiple times. Team officials have correctly identified Kriseman as the impediment to the Montreal idea, and so they are doing an end-around by wooing the council. Politically speaking, that’s the smart play.
On the other hand, council members seemed to suggest they have heard nothing from the mayor who, technically speaking, would be their own teammate. The guy with an office right down the hall.
In a way, that’s the sad part of this saga.
It’s been going on for so long that roles have reversed. In 2014-15, it was Kriseman who was pushing for council members to approve an agreement that allowed the Rays to explore stadium options in Hillsborough County for three years. At the time, Kriseman wisely pointed out that the status quo was untenable and every year of inaction was a year closer to the Rays leaving the marketplace.
And yet, today, he is arguing the exact opposite position.
It’s true, the circumstances have changed. During his first term, the Rays were only looking to move 20 miles across the bay and now they want to move more than half of their games to Canada. So the mayor’s reluctance is understandable. And if you think the Montreal idea is ridiculous, you might even say the mayor’s stance is commendable.
But that doesn’t mean the status quo is any more preferable today than it was in 2015. Which means stonewalling the Rays is still not the answer.
A compromise has to be found.
If the Rays are convinced St. Pete does not have the demographics to support Major League Baseball and they have no interest in another stadium in the city, then they should be willing to give up their share of the redevelopment rights at the Trop. After all, they’re not going to be living here in 2028.
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In exchange, the city should allow the Rays to negotiate indefinitely with Montreal and Hillsborough County for their split season plan. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has expressed a willingness to listen and Montreal is already on board.
St. Pete would get to redevelop valuable property without any hindrances, the Rays would get to pursue what they say is their No. 1 plan, and fans would still have some semblance of Major League Baseball in the market.
Personally, that wouldn’t be my first choice for an eventual outcome. But that’s what compromise is all about.
Unfortunately, we don’t even know if we’re seeing tough negotiations or obstinance.
Are the Rays giving the mayor a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum? Is Kriseman allowing poll numbers to dictate his hardened stance?
Both sides need to stop hiding and start playing ball.