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Rays no longer plan to attend City Council meetings

Team took issue with accusations of "arrogance" from City Council members.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In December of 2014, the St. Petersburg City Council voted against a motion to allow the Rays to explore the Tampa Bay region for their next stadium location. The agreement featured a multi-million dollar buyout structure to allow the Rays to leave Tropicana Field as well.

While debating the merits of the termination agreement, the City Council took issue with a possibly over-looked aspect of Tropicana Field's lease agreement, which was at best a matter of a few thousand dollars.

What followed was a worst case scenario for progress between the Rays and the elected officials.

A minor aspect of Tropicana Field's use agreement allows the city and team to split any profits from redeveloping the stadium site's 80-acres. The Council wanted the Rays to rescind that right to move forward with the agreement, but the Rays took a hard stance.

The Rays brass decided it would only negotiate with the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman, after ten years at odds with The Council and nearly five years of a standstill. Kriseman was elected on a platform that included progress with the Rays, and he bridged the gap between the Rays and the Council shortly after his election.

In spite of the progress made by the Rays and the Mayor -- who repeatedly called the agreement a fair deal -- the Council was willing to deny the Rays a stadium search, with some members making controversial remarks after the meeting, calling the team's refusal to allow the City Council to participate in negotiations arrogance.

"I don't like arrogance," was the exact quote from Councilman Bill Dudley. Councilwoman Darden Rice, who voted for the proposal, agreed that it was, "either tone deafness or arrogance" that sunk the Rays chances.

According to Councilman Jim Kennedy, Rays President Brian Auld, "didn't just say no [to open negotiations], he said hell no" -- speaking of Auld's reaction to the question, but not his words. "It was a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, and that's not the best way to do business."

"The deal breaker for me," said Councilwoman Amy Foster, "was the idea that they want us to abide by the use agreement for redevelopment purposes, where they can benefit, but they didn't want to abide by the use agreement [by staying at the Trop]."

That last quote is most telling. In practice, it is the equivalent of refusing to purchase a house because the owners won't re-paint the baseboards before they leave. This is the consequence of having to pass the vote of the St. Petersburg City Council, who have only done harm in such criticisms, and it is for that reason the Rays may truly be done with the Council.

Of course, that is assuming the Rays would even allow redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

Participating in a Q&A session with the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday, owner Stu Sternberg addressed that very concern.

Times: If you play at the Trop while building a new stadium somewhere else, and the city develops some of the Trop acreage, what share of dollars would you want?

Sternberg: None. I don't want construction on my front door while we are playing baseball. We need parking, we need access. I would not say absolutely no, but the important part of this thing is that I am not looking for any monetary benefit for any development.

Instead of asking for re-negotiations, the Council opted to hold a Stadium Workshop, where the Council concluded on Thursday that the best course of action for the Rays was to remain at Tropicana Field, a decision not based on any presented research, but on the presumed inability to raise funds to build a new stadium within the city limits, namely the Tropicana Field parking lot.

Speaking with Rays Radio on Friday afternoon, Rays owner Stu Sternberg noted he had followed the discussions in the workshop, and thanked the Council over the airwaves for using their valuable time on discussion the Stadium further, but also reminded it was the City Council who denied the Rays a new stadium search in 2013 after green lighting a Stadium proposal in downtown St. Petersburg nearly a decade ago.

The Times asked Sternberg a leading question in the Q&A on the Rays' future discussions with the City Council, and the owner happily obliged with an even harder stance than the team had taken in the meeting.

Not only will the Rays not negotiate with the City Council, they do not plan to attend meetings either.

If Mayor Kriseman returns to the City Council with a new stadium agreement, will you attend?

We have had meetings with council members individually multiple times and we are open to continuing to meet with them individually. I don't see myself personally attending another council meeting - or my staff. [...]

A mob mentality just does not seem to work, for us to show up. Our president came to the meeting last time and was very open with the council, and the criticism he received afterwards was uncalled for and unjust. We had nothing but the best intentions of doing what's best for the Rays and for St. Petersburg.

Sternberg concluded his Q&A by reiterated his appreciative attitude that the elected officials would entertain discussion on a new stadium, and his commitment to the region as a whole.

Going forward, Sternberg will put his trust in Mayor Kriseman to settle matters with the City Council, saying "It was a mistake to have our people at the last council meeting. This was a deal we struck with the mayor. It's the city's issue, not my issue."

All quotes via the Tampa Bay Times (1 | 2)