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…
- Ensuring that the legal integrity of the city’s agreement with the Rays is not compromised.
- Supporting private sector efforts to retain the Rays as a regional asset without compromising the city’s agreement with the Rays.
- 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.