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August 19, 2011
Foster: I have a secret plan for keeping Rays in St. Pete
Move over, John Iselin! St. Petersbug Mayor Bill Foster, under pressure to ramp up talks to resolve the Tampa Bay Rays owners' stadium demands, told the city council yesterday that he has a plan for keeping the Rays in St. Pete, he just won't say what it is:
"They can come to me. There is not one meeting they have asked for where I didn't run down and try to meet with them,'' Foster said. "As far as having a detailed plan for keeping the Rays in St. Petersburg, I have that plan," which he said he had previously discussed with individual council members.
"What plan?'' Curran asked. "Marketing?''
"No,'' Foster said, "something we have discussed in the past.''
He wouldn't say what, though, even after council members voted 6-2 to hold a "workshop" to ask the mayor for more information. He did clarify, if "clarify" is the right word, that his plan may not involve a new stadium, and substantially consists of what to do if the Rays try to leave St. Petersburg.
To be fair, Foster is in a tricky place here: He knows the Rays want to leave, ideally for Tampa, which is closer to its wealthier fan base. Yet his best bargaining chip is the Rays' lease, which runs through 2027 and not only prohibits the Rays from moving, but even from talking to other cities about moving. So even if he wants to negotiate a settlement of the standoff with the Rays, he can't openly discuss, say, a buyout of the lease to set up a Tampa move, because then he's giving Rays owner Stuart Sternberg the ability to talk about a Tampa move — and, worse, starts a bidding war between the two cities.
Instead, we get this weird semi-public dance, where Foster says he's willing to talk but not about the team leaving the west side of the bay, while Sternberg says he's willing to talk but only if Tampa is on the table. They may fight eternally.