During yesterday’s aggressive meeting with Pinellas County, Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg finished his part of the presentation with this fun fact: of all the season ticket holders for the Rays, only 300 accounts are from St. Petersburg. This accounts for only 800 to 900 seats in the Trop.
Aptly noted by go-to stadium news reporter Noah Pransky, the city of St. Petersburg is home to 250,000 people. The implication here is that less than half a percent of St. Pete residents are season ticket holders for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sternberg had previously noted that, by their measure, only a quarter of Rays fans actually live in Pinellas County, which has just over 900,000 residents, and that at least a third are in Hillsborough County, home to over 1,250,000 people.
In other remarks that made St. Pete’s viability for baseball sound untenable, Sternberg complained about the lack of business participation from downtown St. Pete companies, and Rays VP Michael Kalt noted that downtown St. Pete is only the 4th largest employment center in the Tampa Bay area – behind Downtown Tampa, Westshore, and even the Carillon/Gateway region. During question and answer after the presentation, Kalt mentioned that strong corporate support exists in each of these locations.
Carillon is home to the most recent stadium proposal for the Rays, sponsored by and located in Pinellas County. Still, the Rays refuse to consider one option until all are on the table. Sternberg also remarked that, according to the front office’s calculations, a new stadium could yield 30,000 fans per game, something some playoff teams failed to do last year.
Kalt was quick to point out the fundamental problem was the location of the current stadium, and described the benefits of redeveloping the 80+ acre property on which Tropicana Field is located. He went so far as to say that if Mayor Bill Foster and the city continue their stalemate, “There is a huge opportunity cost. Keeping us handcuffed to the Trop, it's not doing anything for the taxpayers and people of St. Pete." It was a mantra of the ownership group five years ago during the 2008 proposal for a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Pete, which was nixed by the city.
"Time is not a friend of ours,” Sternberg told the Council meeting, "for inaction. Right now, it’s in my hands, but Major League Baseball is taking an interest.”
Mayor Foster was not able to stay until the end of the meeting, but left a note saying he was available to talk with the Rays Thursday morning. Sternberg’s response? “Maybe.”