When Mayor Bill Foster took the reins in St. Petersburg in 2009, he was riding a wave of support and an endorsement by the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. And just as the name of the most influential newspaper in the bay area has changed its name to reflect its true audience, the Rays would like to do the same - by relocating to a more central location, the Rays can appeal to a fanbase that is strong in television viewership, but absent in attendance.
The Tampa Bay Times has been an ardent supporter of the front office's efforts to find a more viable stadium location, and in direct opposition to Mayor Foster - whose office term expires this year.
Enter Rick Kriseman, fresh off his third term in the Florida House of Representatives, where he served as the Democratic Caucus Policy Chair from 2010-2012 . Prior to his election to the House, Kriseman was a member of the City Council for St. Petersburg, elected in 2000, and the acting council chairman from 2005-2006.
For his next role in a public office, Kriseman has returned to his hometown to run for Mayor. Kriseman is a strong challenger to the incumbent Bill Foster, considering his record, but based on recent polls has yet to garner a strong community awareness. Kriseman's view of the Rays Stadium Saga might change that.
According to Kriseman, to role of a Mayor is not to maintain the "status quo," but to be, "a problem solver" - "to be proactive and innovative" - "to listen, learn, and lead." Kriseman has yet to announce his platform, but has indicated one clear difference between him and Mayor Foster: he is in favor of the Rays' search for a new stadium.
In a series of e-mails with Channel 10 reporter and Stadium aficionado Noah Pransky, Kriseman expressed frustration with the lack of leadership from the Mayor's office in negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays:
"I would not have kicked the can down the road," Kriseman said in an e-mail exchange. "Rather than simply ignoring the concerns of the Rays and hoping that the agreement will adequately protect our interests until 2027, I will initiate conversations about the future of the team in St. Pete and in this area."
Kriseman added that the city's contract with the Rays, which - in theory - keeps the team at Tropicana Field through 2027, "can be amended (as well as) broken."
Mayor Foster's experience as a lawyer holds less of an advantage in competition with Kriseman. He too is a lawyer in the St. Pete area, and believes there should be an urgent focus to "capitalize on the city's negotiating leverage now and work to maximize compensation for the Rays' eventual departure," Pransky reported.
"Because I believe that the agreement with the Rays can be amended without negatively impacting the City's potential damages claim," Kriseman continued, "I would direct City Attorney Wolfe to craft an amendment to the agreement which reflects the Gerdes amendment (or something similar), yet does so in a way that doesn't diminish our damages claim should the Rays decide to terminate the agreement early."
Kriseman's comments are timely. Last week the City Council failed to pass the Gerdes amendment - an addition to the current stadium contract that would have allowed the Rays to explore locations anywhere in the Tampa Bay area for a fee of $1.42 M. It was a proactive solution to what has been an ominous road block to progress for the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg for the entirety of Bill Foster's tenure as Mayor.
Foster is scheduled to have a meeting with Rays owner Stu Sternberg this afternoon, but the Times has already predicted than nothing will come of it.
For more on Kriseman and his stance toward a new Rays stadium, read Pransky's full report for Channel 10 News. For all things stadium related, follow Pransky's blog Shadow of the Stadium, and stay tuned to DRaysBay.