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Three Takeaways From Latest Stadium Saga Plot Twist

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( stock photo)

The baseball stadium soap opera saga has gotten another twist to the plot after Thursday’s meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council with a discussion on the future redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, as Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman unveiled a plan to build a “state-of-the-art” open air stadium that would host Rays baseball for the first part of the regular season, then take over with Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer and other events when baseball moves north to Montreal, Quebec.

Stu Sternberg at St. Petersburg City Council talking stadium

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg addresses the St. Petersburg City Council at their April 15 meeting (screenshot)

“We believe in the sister-city plan,” Sternberg told the council Thursday.  “And that it’s a path forward for baseball to thrive in Tampa Bay.”

Here are three of the things I have taken away from listening to the conversation in this week’s meeting:

Resigning To Being A Part-Time Venue

When Sternberg unveiled the idea of splitting the team’s season between the Tampa Bay region and Montreal in June of 2019, almost every politician appeared to oppose the idea and wanted to find a way to make sure the team stayed full-time in the region long-term.  But now it seems like at least some of those with the negotiating power are looking at the Rays’ plan as the only way to prevent losing the team completely.

“I was more skeptical when I first heard the split-season plan,” council chairman Ed Montanari said.  “But I’m coming on board.  I want to hear more.”

Less and less are you hearing about the possibility of seeing 162 regular season games and postseason series played in a stadium here, and the politicians city residents have elected seem to be OK with it.

Council Seems To Want Al Lang Stadium Redevelopment As Much, If Not More

The idea that the Rays and Rowdies could play in the same venue means the site Al Lang Stadium sits on in downtown St. Petersburg could also be redeveloped.  Council members appear to be as excited, if not more so, about the possibilities that this parcel could bring as they do about the Tropicana Field site.

“If we free up the Al Lang site, we can do something cool, innovative, unique, quirky there, because that’s the St. Pete brand,” councilman Robert Blackmon said.  “And that’s what I’m super excited about: to have this be a consolidation because it frees up even more land downtown.”

But this desire to be cool and quirky likely comes at a cost.  It costs baseball fans in the region an opportunity to be able to watch a team that could be contending for championships during exciting pennant races, because the team would be playing those games in Canada.

Mayor Kriseman Likely Won’t Get Resolution before He Leaves Office

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman’s final term in office is up at the end of the year.  He wanted to have the Rays future resolved before his successor took office.  But it now appears that it will be the next mayor who will be at the helm when a decision is made, and the council wants to slow things down and work with the team on the future of the Tropicana Field site.

“I honestly don’t want to pick a master plan developer without your input,” councilman Brandi Gabbard told the Rays.  “Because I certainly don’t want to be picking someone to build you a stadium and giving you a stadium like what happened the first time [with the Trop.]”

The team seems to want things to not get too hasty.

“We believe we need to figure out the future of baseball on the site before deciding upon a developer or a development plan,” Silverman told the council.  “That is how the Trop site can be developed as swiftly as possible and with certainty.”

That means Kriseman’s tenure at the helm will likely end with the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in the region in the same spot as when he came into the job eight years ago: in limbo.

Written By

Steve Carney is the founder and publisher of St. Pete Nine. One of the people most associated with baseball coverage in Tampa Bay, he spent 13 seasons covering the Rays for flagship radio station WDAE, first as producer of Rays Radio broadcasts, then as beat reporter beginning in 2011. He likes new analytics and aged bourbon, and is the owner of one of the ugliest knuckleballs ever witnessed by baseball scouts.

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