Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rays still can't talk to Tampa officials about a new stadium

Posted by on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 1:15 PM

Charlie Gerdes
  • Charlie Gerdes
Today, the St. Petersburg City Council deadlocked on a 4-4 vote to have their attorney study a proposal that would allow the Rays permission to speak to officials in Tampa about a possible new ballpark. Because it needed a majority, the measure failed.

The proposal was offered by Councilman Charlie Gerdes, who said his intention was to break up the current stalemate between the city and Rays management.

"How do we break the stalemate? We need a vibrant and engaged relationship where we think about the future," he said. Gerdes denied that his move was an invitation to allow the Rays to leave. He said it simply allowed them to look.

The plan would have let the Rays investigate new stadium sites in either Hillsborough or Pinellas counties in exchange for an annual fee of about $1.42 million, which is roughly equal to the city's annual operating subsidy on Tropicana Field.

City Attorney John Wolfe praised Gerdes for the soundness of his proposal, but didn't support it. He said the city's best legal negotiating stance was status quo, and to do anything would simply weaken it.

Mayor Bill Foster then repeated like a mantra that Council members should "listen to your attorneys."

The four members of council who supported the motion were Leslie Curran, Wengay Newton, Karl Nurse and Gerdes.

Councilman Bill Dudley expressed anger with Rays management saying it's been a one-way relationship between the city and the baseball club. He was referring to the fact that Rays owner Stu Sternberg didn't agree to Mayor Foster's suggestion to meet two weeks ago.

"I haven't heard him say he appreciates the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas. I would expect a little more respect," Dudley said in a scolding tone.

Gerdes repeatedly said that St. Petersburg is a great place to live, work and play, but city officials were acting too defensively, and it was time to go on the offense. At one point, he beat his chest, emphasizing that residents should feel good about St. Pete.

All of the Council members agreed that more dialogue is needed between the city and Rays management. Councilwoman Leslie Curran joked that "couples therapy" might be required.

One key disagreement between Councilman Gerdes and Mayor Foster is that with each passing day, the city of St. Petersburg loses leverage. That's Gerdes' — and the Tampa Bay Times editorial page's — viewpoint. But Foster said that theory is poppycock.

Foster kept mum on Gerdes' proposal until the discussion began. For a moment, it sounded like he was going to support the idea when he said, "I'll probably blow your mind today." But that was followed by, "The Gerdes Amendment is thoughtful, reasonable and I appreciate him doing this on his time and bringing that for discussion."

Who knows what will happen next. Foster said his people are talking to Rays officials about having a sit-down meeting with Sternberg.

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