Tuesday, January 29, 2013

After Pinellas County Commission meeting, Rays stadium situation not any clearer

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Tropicana_Field.jpg
On Tuesday afternoon, the meeting between Tampa Bay Rays management and the Pinellas County Commission ended with an invitation for the Rays and Mayor Bill Foster to meet this Thursday morning.

The public offer came from Pinellas County Commission chair Ken Welch. Welch read a letter given to him by Mayor Foster, who left the meeting early — a good example that illustrates the lack of communications between the two parties.

The question that must be posed after the baseball team's executives were invited to talk to both the Pinellas and Hillsborough County Commissions in the past week is: Has this long-running saga advanced at all in the past week? The fact remains that Rays management wants to talk to Tampa officials, and Foster steadfastly refuses to grant such permission.

One could argue that public opinion might begin leaning more toward the Rays, who have now had the forum to broadcast their particular plight for the entire region to understand, and against Foster, who comes across as the bully fighting progress.

Pinellas Commissioner Susan Latvala told Rays owner Stu Sternberg, as well as Michael Kalt — senior vice president of development and business affairs — that "it's embarrassing you're being treated this way in your community," and surely she was referring to only one person when she meant that remark.

Kalt, Sternberg and team president Matt Silverman reiterated their message that was delivered last week to Hillsborough Commissioners, with the thrust being that they've done all they can in terms of putting a winning club on the field, but the fans have not followed suit. This has increased their desire to look at other parts of the Tampa Bay area to build a new stadium.

When asked what he would like to do next, Sternberg said he'd like to follow up on the 2010 ABC report that said there were really only three ideal locations for a new ballpark: downtown/Channelside in Tampa, the Westshore area of Tampa, or the Carillon area of St. Petersburg.

There actually is a serious plan for Carillon, which was unveiled last fall by architect Daryl LeClair. Mayor Foster said he would allow the Rays management to meet with LeClair's development team, but the team never picked up the phone.

Given the opportunity to address the board this afternoon, St. Petersburg City Council chair Karl Nurse said in the name of moving the ball forward, the Rays should speak to CityScape LLC about that proposal.

"I know it's not a solution, but it's a beginning," Nurse said.

Welch said he didn't want to disrespect Foster, but he would be very supportive it the mayor agreed to let the Rays management speak to officials in Tampa.

When asked what would make them content to remain at Tropicana Field (where they have a lease that runs through 2027), Sternberg said to have home attendance rise to about 30,000 fans per game, which he and Kalt said was roughly the average home crowd in Major League Baseball. Last year the Rays plummeted to just 19,000 plus per game, dead last in MLB attendance.

Sternberg made headlines last week when he said that the MLB had already thrown in the towel on Tampa Bay, deciding that the region has not shown it can support a franchise that has had five consecutive winning seasons. He said nobody believed the Rays could suddenly crack the top five in attendance, but to get into the middle of the pact would be a huge improvement.

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