Apparently those hints that St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster was ready to let Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg explore building a stadium in other nearby cities were more than just hints, because Foster has now told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that he’s throwing in the towel on holding Sternberg to his lease clause requiring that the team stay in St. Pete:
“If your goal is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa Bay until 2050, you have to let them look in Tampa,” Foster said.
Attendance might not improve markedly at a Hillsborough site, Foster said. “I think there is a big question mark as to whether or not Tampa Bay is a major league region.”
But letting the Rays explore all options now will enhance chances that the team stays for the long haul, he said.
The timing is a little bit weird, given that the Rays just sold out Sunday’s home game against the Giants (and nearly sold out Saturday’s), but the Rays still are next-to-last in MLB in attendance, so. And while Foster is giving up the right to force the Rays to stay put — or at least opening the door to doing so, as we don’t know yet whether he’ll demand something in exchange — it’s not like that was worth all that much to begin with: Having the Rays in town doesn’t do all that much for the local economy, having them leave would free up the Tropicana Field space for redevelopment, and above all, this would make the Rays stadium saga Tampa’s headache now.
Anyway, assuming Foster is for real, the ball will now be in the court of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, who have proposed dedicating $100 million in tax money that currently goes to pay off convention center debt to a new Rays stadium. That’s almost certainly not going to cut it, since if Sternberg had to pay for half a billion dollars or so worth of stadium costs, he’d likely be better off staying put at Tropicana Field. But it at least means that the haggling can commence, which if it’s not necessarily bad news for Foster, is very, very good news for Sternberg.