During a City Council meeting recently, St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, raised some eyebrows when he suggested that he had a “detailed plan” to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg. What was curious about Mayor Foster’s plan was that despite his vow to be open and honest with the people, he refused to speak with the media about the plan.

But now, Mayor Foster has written a guest column for the St. Pete Times in which he reveals his “plan”…sorta.

Foster’s column says a lot of things. It gives us a definition for “plan.” It tells us that there is no plan for a new stadium. And it tells us the “strategic elements” of the plan…

  1. Ensuring that the legal integrity of the city’s agreement with the Rays is not compromised.
  2. Supporting private sector efforts to retain the Rays as a regional asset without compromising the city’s agreement with the Rays.
  3. Continuing to support and promote the Rays as a professional sports franchise in west-central Florida.

Mayor Foster goes on to say that with the “investment of hundreds of millions of dollars by the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas,” and with 16 years remaining on the Rays contract, “one would be naive to believe that the city did not have a detailed plan to ensure that the Rays remain in St. Petersburg…” But as best we can tell based on the contents of this column, the actual details of the plan only consist of one goal (protecting the interests and investment of the citizens of St. Pete and Pinellas) and one vague action (supporting groups in the private sector that are looking for a solution for the Rays).

On the other hand, the second part does appear to be a step, albeit a small step, in the direction of compromise. Twice Mayor Foster refers to the Rays as a “regional asset.” Remember, when Stuart Sternberg gave his “Baseball will not work longterm in Downtown St. Pete” speech, he made a point of referring to the Rays as a “regional asset.” And when listing the groups that the city will support, Mayor Foster specifically mentions the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. This is certainly a shift in his previous stance when Mayor Foster said “the only parties that need to be talking about this are the city of St. Petersburg and the Rays.”

But later he appears to squash any thoughts of moving the Rays to Hillsborough County when he writes that he “will work with the Rays to develop a regional strategy for fan appeal for our club and Tropicana Field.” In other words, Mayor Foster is willing to help the Rays teach the people of Tampa how to navigate the local bridges to St. Pete.

Mayor Foster sounds like he is digging his heals in the sands of St. Pete Beach even deeper by referring to The Trop as part of his plan and the future of the area’s “regional asset.” But it also sounds like — and maybe we are reading too much into this — Mayor Foster and the city of St. Pete may be open to the idea of a move if the citizens of St. Pete and Pinellas are compensated for their investment of money and time.

But as we have speculated before, we are not sure a big fat check is the answer. Can the Rays work with the state to help St. Pete find an iconic replacement for the Rays. A new museum? A soccer stadium for FC Tampa Bay? Move the Rays triple-A franchise to The Trop or Al Lang with a brand new Legends Field-like minor league park?

Or maybe the Mayor is still sticking by his previous statement when he said, “the Rays aren’t going to Tampa or Hillsborough County.”

Without a doubt, the citizens of St. Pete and Pinellas have put a lot into the Rays and Tropicana Field. But Mayor Foster needs to take a step back and ask: what is more important to the city, the Rays or the city’s investment in the Rays? Mayor Foster’s comments make it sound like the latter.

In the end, we are not sure we know much more about St. Pete’s plan, or if Mayor Foster’s column just raised more questions.

 

 
 

18 Comments

  1. Martin B says:

    Why would he be digging his heels in the sands of St. Pete Beach? St. Pete Beach isn’t part of St. Petersburg proper.

    Metaphor failure.

    And, yes, the city’s investment in the Rays is more important. The job of the Mayor (as much as I generally don’t like the man) is to protect the investments of St. Petersburg.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      “metaphor failure”

      Because according to Foster, this is not only a St. Pete issue, but it is a Pinellas issue. And St. Pete Beach is the closest well-known beach to The Trop. But if being technically correct is that important, no, Foster does not represent St. Pete Beach.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      And if the investment is more important, then the goal should not be to keep the Rays but rather, to recoup some of that investment.

      • Martin B says:

        Since the city has a lease until 2027, why can’t we have both? Foster isn’t going to be around being mayor at the end of this lease term, why should he negotiate something that is so ridiculously far away? “Keeping the team” is not a part of negotiations the city has to even think about until ten years from now where it might become feasible for the Rays (or MLB) to just write a check to get out of the rest of the lease.

        I love the Rays, I dislike Mayor Foster. However, to ask for the people of a community already struggling to subsidize a huge corporation where economic study after economic study shows such subsidies don’t actually pay back its investment to the community is disgusting.

  2. Zach G says:

    Could you change your background I can hardly read..

  3. Sarah says:

    Cork, it’s possible that Foster’s use of the term “regional” is a very subtle signal that he’s becoming more flexible, or just a sign that he’s not a careful proofreader. Personally I see nothing in this op ed that suggests he’s going to do any more than look at his legal options.

    Real leaders seek creative solutions to complex problems. Digging in your heels may be emotionally satisfying, but it’s not leadership.

    • Gus says:

      When Foster writes the check after year to the tune of $6M of his constitutents $ to pay for the building, and some some out-of-state owner is blaming a building and a location for what is a regional problem (see the Buc’s recent attendance woes and the Lightning’s historical attendance woes) and a coming national problem (live gate is trending down almost everywhere, in almost every sport), you are darn straight that is leadership to say uphold the lease. I’m not a fan of him on most issues, but here he is taking a stand that his voters elected him to take.

      What legal (or moral) reason is there for the Rays to break this lease? That they don’t sell enough tickets to please their owner is neither a legal nor a moral reason.

      • Steve says:

        Totally agree. First off as frustrating as it might seem, I can’t see why anybody would expect him to even attempt a public negotiation of this issue between the Rays and the City. The last proposal was eviscerated by a public that has had enough of subsidizing professional sports. The team has boxed in the city, leaving them no options. The only leverage the people have is that lease so to take steps to weaken your own position would be crazy. We do have the luxury of time, we shouldn’t be forced into any position, and hopefully the City Council will see that all these cries for creativity and leadership are just efforts to make the city cut its own throat. The biggest issue confronting this franchise right now and for the next few years isn’t the Trop or its location its the inability to score runs. They can run an inexpensive, yet competitive team for the near term if not longer and maybe the economy will improve by then. Until then we need some bats so we don’t squander the best years of this pitching staff.

  4. @MandaGator says:

    This
    “The city is prepared, as part of its plan, to further its dialogue with the Rays so that such exploration and due diligence exercises can begin in the sunshine with our *citizens fully informed*.”
    followed by this
    “these details of the plan will *remain confidential*. Awkward, yes, but we must balance the public’s need to know now against the city’s future public interests.”
    causes me to completely disregard every word written by our fine Mayor.

  5. Mayor Foster just continues to build towards the Rays departure. Calling them a regional asset doesn’t help if he doesn’t let them do what it takes to stay in the Bay Area. He’s still so stubborn. Sure the city is owned something but is the possibility of losing the Rays permanently worth holding them hostage like this?

    • Ryan says:

      Hey, if the folks in Hillsborough county want to finance Sternberg’s hobby, then they’re more than welcome to when 2027 rolls around.

      Good riddance to public financing of other people’s hobby’s.

  6. dave says:

    The region could have had the rays back in the early 90′s if the city of St. Pete had listened to MLB and NOT built a stadium before the deal was done. The concrete pit surrounded by uninhabited water was possibly the worst logisitical place for a stadium so Miami got the Marlins instead and the Thunderdome sat empty and useless for a decade. It was the snarky and foolish decision to beat Tampa to the punch that sunk St. Pete taxpayer money. Foster should be grateful MLB eventually gave the city the chance to make anything on their idiotic and carelss investment.

    • Gus says:

      1991 Expansion Decision: Miami with stadium in place v. Tampa with a bankrupt car dealer (Morsani) and his plan to privately build a stadium with bankrupt developer (Mack). Not seeing how Tampa Bay ever even makes the final round in that 1991 MLB expansion derby without the stadium built. Like it or not, the stadium forced MLB’s hand (eventually). Without it, Tampa Bay never gets a team. Ever.

  7. dave says:

    Gus, interesting take on the 91 expansion. MLB abhors playing in football stadiums, not sure Miami qualified for “stadium in place.” You could say the same thing about Tampa and the big sombrero, right? MLB wanted to he in Florida and I think for multiple reasons they preferred the Tampa Bay market to Miami, they just reallized they key individuals in the Bay area were small time, hay seed, factional losers that saw themselves as multiple little fiefdoms rather than one decent sized market. Some things never change.

  8. Beazzy says:

    Well, to bad Port Charlotte has such an investment in the spring training, and single A team of the Rays. Just think of a world where we the people of west central Florida had the Rays with a beach resort for a ball park somewhere close to Tampa, with 3,000 strong at spring training and the Stone Crabs games at Al Lang stadium on the water in downtown in St. Pete. Therefor, the Tampa Bay area can have there cake, and eat it too. Just think, boating to a ball game in downtown St. Pete, while the Rays play at the new Trop, with a Shepard’s like resort in left field including a hotel, pool, tiki bar. But, unfortunately our world isn’t perfect, though the Rays are a model for success in any business, turning profits in baseball in a tent surrounded by water…

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