The extremely confusing Tampa Bay Rays stadiums talks with the city of St. Petersburg took a lurch — backwards? sideways? — yesterday when team president Brian Auld told city council members that team owner Stuart Sternberg won’t allow the city to start working on redeveloping their existing stadium site before 2028 unless the city allows Sternberg to start exploring moving at least some games out of Tampa Bay before then:
Council members Amy Foster and Darden Rice both said Auld, in his meetings with them this week, referenced a quote from former St. Petersburg city attorney John Wolfe that appeared in a July 15, 2019 Tampa Bay Times article about the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.
The Trop’s use agreement binds the team to the city. But Wolfe, who wrote the contract, said it could also be used by the team to bind the city.
“They could certainly delay it for years if they wanted to,” Wolfe told the Times, regarding any attempt to develop the land without the Rays’ permission.
Rice said the message was clear: If the Rays are forced to abide by the Trop’s use agreement and stay in St. Petersburg through 2027, then the team is prepared to exercise its rights against the city.
This honestly doesn’t seem to be all that much of a threat, given that: 1) the city already has rights to develop the Tropicana Field parking lots, and it would be tough to build anything on top of the stadium itself without tearing it down first, which would require the team being elsewhere, 2) it would take a few years to get a development plan in place regardless, and the Rays’ lease only extends another 7+ years at this point, 3) Sternberg right now can talk to other cities about moving there, he just can’t talk about moving there before 2028, and 4) St. Pete has to share redevelopment proceeds with Sternberg if any new construction happens before 2028, but gets all the revenues to itself after that. So really this comes down to Let us consider leaving before 2028, or else we’ll stay until then. Which is really just a restatement of St. Peterburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s underlying dilemma, such as it is: He wants the Rays to stay, but he also wants the Tropicana Field land, and he can’t have both at once.
All of which remains a distraction from the fact that Sternberg doesn’t have another stadium to move to, let alone two stadiums if he’s really intent on going ahead with his Tampontreal Ex-Rays gambit. But in the meantime, if he wants to try to leverage Kriseman’s hunger to get his hands on the Trop land to get to get permission to consider leaving town in, say, 2025 instead of 2028, it’s the only leverage play he has at the moment.
This calls for a check in to see what Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium says about the latest twist:
This tweet aged well. https://t.co/TTmj5N794g
— Shadow of Stadium (@StadiumShadow) January 30, 2020
But hey, at least Sternberg got a news story out of it that says he’s playing “hardball”! That’s got to be worth a few congratulatory slaps on the back at the next owners’ meeting.