Friday, November 30, 2012

Bill Foster says The Rays owe taxpayers 1,215 regular season home games at the Trop

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Most people figure there's no way the Tampa Bay Rays will fulfill their obligation to play all of their home games at Tropicana Field before 2027. Bill Foster isn't most people.

Earlier this week, the Mayor of St. Petersburg repeated once again that he has no intent of allowing the Rays to play anywhere else throughout the course of their remaining 15-year lease, with the exception of looking at sites such as the proposed facility at the Carillon area of St. Petersburg introduced by architect Darryl LeClair in late September.

"At this point, I'm not interested in building a stadium. If they want to talk about, we'll look, as long as we look in St. Petersburg or the Gateway area," Foster said Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm not going to let them look in Tampa. That's a deal killer. Hillsborough County? A deal killer. They owe you — it's not about me — they owe you, the taxpayers of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, 1,215 regular season home games at the Trop. And you know I'm going to make sure you get every one," he said to the 70 or so people from the Academy of Senior Professionals (ASPEC) at Eckerd College, during part of their 2012 public forum series at Lewis House on the Eckerd College campus.

Foster has maintained his stance ever since he took office more than three years ago, frustrating Rays management, who have made it clear that they want to talk about opportunities in Tampa and/or Hillsborough County.

In October, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg accepted an offer made by the boards of both the Pinellas and Hillsborough County Commissions to come before them and speak about potential stadium scenarios. A week later, Foster wrote back to Sternberg saying that a speech to Tampa lawmakers was not going to happen.

As previously stated, Foster said he is "intrigued" by the design offered by LeClair and the St. Pete developing firm CityScape "because it was the only design I've seen that would allow private money to come in." Foster is referring to the fact that the ambitious proposal refers to office buildings, condominiums and retail all being part of a complex built within the narrow confines of the Carillon Business Park.

Calling it "perfect," the mayor said, "you have all of these private entities contributing, with the Rays contributing, and maybe the Tourist Development tax contribution. That's the only way I can see where something like that is going to get built."

Foster also referenced the period when St. Petersburg and Pinellas attempted to woo a major league franchise to the region, and how attendance clauses were inserted in discussions with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins, though not for the San Francisco Giants, who in 1992 appeared destined to move to St. Pete.

"We said we're not worried about this revenue or that revenue sharing," he said. "We said take out any attendance clause and we'll do this. There was a lot of negotiating and attendance was talked about. Now, a few years later, it's somehow not suitable for Major League Baseball?," he said of the conditions about Tropicana Field. "I don't buy it. The city acted in good faith to put it into this condition, and everybody said it was going to be suitable until 2027. And you know what? I'm going to hold them to it."

Of course it doesn't help that even though the Rays just completed their fifth consecutive winning season, they finished dead last in attendance — nearly 40 percent below the big-league average in 2012.

This past week, Tampa Bay Times sports columnist Tom Jones wrote a story reflecting on attendance woes plaguing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the NFL's surprise teams this year that's still in playoff contention going into December. But the Bucs have sold out just one game this year. Jones wrote that "If I'm (Stuart) Sternberg, I'm wondering if this area can support my team no matter how good it is and where the stadium is located."

In that same issue of the Times, Metro columnist John Romano wrote, "by now, everyone knows this is not a terrific sports market. That is neither insult or criticism. It is simply reality based on numbers."

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch tells CL that he understand the legal advise Mayor Foster is getting, but says "the reality is the Rays are not going to play out the balance of their contract at Tropicana Field. In my view, you have to have a plan to work with the Rays and keep them in the Bay area long-term. And not talking is not a solution."

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