Foster, Rays meeting kept top secret - FOX 13 News

Foster, Rays meeting kept top secret

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Both parties kept a long-awaited meeting between St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg a closely guarded secret all day Friday, and sources claimed it did not occur by the end of the business day.

The possibility of an evening meeting still existed.

Meanwhile, quiet discussions among other parties have started about the possible redevelopment of the Tropicana Field property. Foster and Sternberg are in a stalemate over the Rays' desire to break the lease on the Trop before 2027 by looking outside St. Petersburg for another location.

While Sternberg has consistently phrased his request as looking at all possibilities, recent comments appear to exclude downtown St. Petersburg as a possibility.

"We have a fundamental issue with the location of this building within a market that's already challenging," Rays Vice President Michael Kalt told Hillsborough County Commissioners on January 24th.

At the same meeting, Sternberg was asked about his 2007 proposal to build a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg.

"If we had it to do over again, I wouldn't have gone through the extent that we did to move it there, we would have done a full exploration of the area," Sternberg responded.

The next week, in an appearance before Pinellas County Commissioners, Kalt and Sternberg brought up the oft-forgotten other part of the baseball on the seawall concept: The redevelopment of the 86 urban acres now occupied by the stadium and its huge surface parking lot.

"We were sitting on, frankly, an enormous piece of land in a rapidly growing downtown that had real value, still has real value, and frankly, that was laying fallow," Kalt told the commissioners, with Sternberg adding "A big part it was what we saw was the ability to really jump start the acreage that we currently sit on."

Sources agree any early exit by the Rays will involve some sort of buyout, and the potential for redevelopment of the land will be a factor raised by the team.

"There's a tremendous opportunity cost that ticks by every day by not doing something with that piece of land," Kalt said, after referring to "...the property tax generation, the sales tax generation, and the job generation by putting that land to a more productive use."

Sources in city hall have already framed a response: The city, not the Rays, own the land, and redevelopment will take years or decades, creating a gap between baseball's economic engine and its replacement. However, the potential is very real. In 2008, three different national development firms submitted proposals calling for different mixes of housing, hotels, retail and office space. One offered $50 million for the land; another $61 million.

During an in-studio interview, Foster told FOX 13 he was meeting with Sternberg, but the city and the Rays are being tight lipped about the location and time of the meeting.

Last week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Foster sat down together for a one-of-a-kind interview. Both were together, in the same room, talking about the Bay area's big elephant in the room.

Foster told FOX 13 he's not budging. The team is contractually obligated to stay in Pinellas County through 2028.

"Fifteen years left on the agreement," Foster said. "I'm playing with the hand that I was dealt today, and I'm going to sit down with Mr. Sternberg Friday and see if he can't make us an offer we can't refuse."

Sternberg and Foster have not met since about the same time last year, and as of today, the stalemate appears unchanged.

The Rays want to look at all possible locations, including Tampa, but Foster isn't ruling out an agreement.

"If and when Mr. Sternberg and I are able to reach an agreement where they do look in Pinellas County, and they do see that the benefits are actually there – that we can, because of our previous investments and with public and private partnerships, fund a new stadium," Foster said."My job is to convince him that Pinellas County is the panacea of Major League Baseball."

Both joke about it, but it's a tug of war.

"If that relationship fails, as regional leaders we have an obligation to do our best to keep them here," Buckhorn told FOX 13. "I have said from day one, if they leave St. Pete that downtown Tampa is the best location for that stadium."

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