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Sternberg: Rays ballpark search will proceed

Tampa Bay RaysThe search for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark location will take place in coming years with or without the cooperation of St. Petersburg, according to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg.

The Rays came to an agreement with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on a deal allowing the team to search for a Tropicana Field replacement throughout the Tampa Bay region, including Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. That deal was rejected by the City Council, but the Rays and Kriseman continue to talk.

And while the City Council still works to formulate a ballpark plan (more on that in a sec), Sternberg says that serious ballpark planning needs to take place in coming years, as it takes at least five years to plan and finance a new MLB ballpark. Sternberg says that planning will take place with or without St. Petersburg, per the Tampa Bay Times:

For five years, city officials have blocked his request for a regionwide hunt for a new ballpark — most recently at a tense City Council meeting in December.

But the city’s veto power does not extend to any stadium built after 2027, when the Trop contract expires. Planning and building a new stadium would take at least five years, Sternberg said. He wants to start a search soon enough so that play in a new stadium can begin as soon as the Trop contract ends.

“We need a ton of time,” Sternberg said. “Right now we are talking about trying to build something in the Tampa Bay region that would have us playing before 2028. But at some point, we have to start looking at 2028.”

Now, in terms of threats, this isn’t the fiercest proclamation Sternberg could make: he’s basically warning that St. Pete runs the risk of losing the Rays when the Tropicana Field lease ends in 2017. So we’re not so sure this is a warning to the St. Pete City Council as much as the acknowledgement of the realities of the situation.

And, indeed, the St. Pete City Council itself seems to be struggling to determine the realities of the situation. While there’s a chance a new Rays/Kriseman proposal could reach the City Council in April, it looks like the council wants to research the issue before making any decision. There’s talk of determining the financial impact of the Rays, there’s the realization that any use of county bed taxes on a new ballpark needs to be set sooner rather than later, and there’s the acknowledgement that the Tropicana Field site could be redeveloped to city benefit, even with a new ballpark there (something Sternberg has spoken out against, by the way). But, perhaps most important, there’s the realization on the City Council that the status quo really can’t hold, as shown in a council workshop last week covering the ballpark sitation, per the Tampa Bay Times:

Council members, hoping to keep the team in town, kicked around ideas for financing a new stadium — but just in St. Petersburg….

The workshop — though rambling and repetitive at times — did let council members exchange ideas for a possible St. Petersburg-only solution. Several had expressed dismay that Kriseman’s December initiative had forced them into an up-or-down vote with little input.

“This is our team,” said council member Wengay Newton, wearing a Rays jersey. “We are the only council and the only taxpayer base that controls this (stadium) asset.”

RELATED STORIES: Rays, St. Pete continue ballpark relocation talks; Most county-board candidates indicate support for new Rays ballpark in Tampa; Time running out on key Rays funding component; New year, new day for new Rays ballpark?; Foster: MLB looking for reason to flee Tampa Bay; Residents: Let Rays buy out Trop lease, move to Tampa; Selig: No updates on Rays ballpark situation; Rays: We won’t buy out Trop lease on St. Pete’s terms; St. Pete mayor: Talks with Rays going poorly; Poll: little support for public funding of new Rays ballpark

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