These days, it seems as if St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster is talking to anyone that puts a mic in his face after sitting down with Stu Sternberg on Tuesday to discuss matters. The Rays modus operandi after these meetings have been to remain very positive yet intentionally vague about what exactly was discussed while Foster seems to be on a coordinated plan to control the message by jumping on every television station and radio station in the market that will talk to him.
Today's session was with Ronnie Lane and Tom Krasniqi over at ESPN 1040's Primetime show and the responses were rather, um, interesting. You should already be listening to the show during drivetime anyhow as Tommy Rancel is on as a guest at least once a week, so if you aren't, tune in next week and try it out.
Kras: How would you characterize the meeting you had with Stu Sternberg?
Foster: I left there very positive. Stu is a great corporate partner and does have the controlling interest in the team. They are a huge economic development source, economic driver, an employment base, and a source of civic pride....we were not going to air our differences in newspaper articles....he has my cellphone number and I have his and we are going to talk out any issues we have.
Kras: Was the meeting tense at all?
Foster: I wouldn't say tense at all, no. It was very candid, and I like candor. I'm a big boy and my skin is very thick especially after listening to talk radio and people's opinion of me. We can have differences of opinion and areas of common ground where we can sit down and find solutions. I think the Rays does have questions about the region's ability to support three major professional franchises and I think they made it clear they have questions. I left there sensing that this isn't a civil war between the two sides of the bay but rather the region's fight whether there is stadium suitability in the future.
Lane: So what is your feeling about the area supporting three teams and have you discussed this topic with Mayor Buckhorn of Tampa?
Foster: Bill and I are very close. This is a huge TV market with a lot of support for the Rays in the market whether it is merchandising or TV ratings. ESPN ranks the Rays as the second most affordable sports product for the fan in all of professional sports. Economically, we have seen that the Glazers have had, the Rays have had, and the competition in the Tampa Bay area in regards to disposable cash. As far as the region's ability to support it - absolutely. We have to be patient and let the economy turn a little bit and have a few more years of success on the field and ride the wave of success from game 162. We're seeing a real commitment to the 2012 season with the signing of Carlos Pena and the raising of the payroll and now it is time for the St. Pete region to give back.
Kras: During the meeting, was there any talk about demolishing the Trop and rebuilding in its place?
Foster: No. My offer to the Rays, and it still stands, that he would be happy to explore viable sites in St. Pete and abutting properties in the county to St. Pete. There was no interest by the Rays to explore any of those areas nor assist the city in doing so.
Lane: Did Mr. Sternberg ask you permission to explore sites in Hillsborough County?
Foster: That is their position. I will say that the idea was that I will look everywhere if I can look anywhere. It was not exclusive to any one area...no counter offer made. When Sternberg says that, that's not exclusive to the region and that point has never been made to me and it has never come up. My offer remains out there but has never been countered. You can make your own conclusions; I will never put words in his mouth. There has never been a desire on the Rays' behalf in exploring sites or projects in this side of the bay.
Kras: Can he look outside of this area? Is he allowed to do that?
Foster: The closer you get to 2027, the more these conversations have urgency. It is 2012, the city of St. Pete is entitled to 16 more baseball seasons. That is what we intend to hold the Rays to. By 2020, Sternberg is going to want discussions to occur somewhere, whether inside or outside the region. The region only bargained for 30 years; any time after that, all bets are off......We are prepared for interventions from Major League Baseball. We have a reactionary strategy in place. We are most prepared to work with our partner, the Rays, to ensure the economic viability of a business that means a great deal to this city and a business that this city has invested heavily in. It is important to us that the Rays know how much we appreciate them for what they do.
To listen to the entire 20ish minute interview, click here and click the 3rd audio player on the page.