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Rays Stadium Saga: A timeline of this year’s drama

Here’s a refresher on a wild 2021 (updated, 5:00pm)

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Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred, left, speaks with Mayor Rick Kriseman as Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg looks on.
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The month of May was a tumultuous one in the Rays stadium saga, resetting allegiances in the politics for a new Rays stadium.

Gone are the days when the Rays leadership refused to attend City Council meetings and only negotiate with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Now it is the City Council that is advocating for the Rays, while Kriseman refuses to meet with the team, all while the front office continues to champion a Sister City concept between Montreal and Tampa.

Oh, and the Rays ownership group is so divided on what’s best for the organization there’s a lawsuit to remove the principal owner.

How did we get here?

January 26 — St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman outs the Rays negotiating position to privatize a future stadium site in St. Petersburg; releases 7 proposals to redevelop Tropicana Field

If Rick Kriseman is going to be able to list the Tropicana Field site redevelopment on his resume, the term-limited mayor is going to have to make things move quickly. That might explain why he started the years by speeding past the City Council, which controls the budget for the city, and the Rays organization, which can effectively block any progress until 2028 to move redevelopment planning to the next stage.

Previously: Tropicana Field Redevelopment, Explained

The press conference, which was held on the Tropicana Field site but pointedly did not include the Rays, drew clear divisions between the Mayor’s office and the Rays front office. Kriseman followed with the press conference with the unveiling of seven proposals for redeveloping the site.

March 8 — Mayor Kriseman surprises City Council with request for funds to pay for a stadium consultant; narrows the field to four proposals.

Fully vetting and evaluating detailed redevelopment proposals is hard, negotiating with professional sports teams is hard, and Kriseman — like many mayors — quite reasonably sought to hire a consultant who would be able to help city staff manage those processes.

The hiccup: Because the consultant contract exceeded $100,000, it needed to be approved by City Council.

The City Council would deny Kriseman a request for his consultant twice, believing the process should move more slowly and involve more Council input and oversight.

March 26 — Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg makes rare public statement praising the progress in Montreal toward a new stadium

Following a public statement by Montreal’s head of Finance calling the return of Major League Baseball a “win-win,” the Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he feels “much more confident about the Montreal side,” per the Times.

April 1 — Mayor Kriseman reveals the Rays were offered an opportunity to “weigh in” on the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, but the team declined.

The following was communicated in writing to the City Council:

“Please be advised that the Rays have informed me that they are declining to the opportunity to provide their thoughts and insights at this time.”

Kriseman may not want input, but he appears to have solicited it from the primary tenant.

April 14 — Mayor Kriseman reduces the stadium consultant contract to $99,000, below the City Council threshold for approval.

In lieu of going before the City Council a third time to receive funds for a consultant firm’s assistance in speeding along redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, Mayor Kriseman re-negotiated the contract to within his office’s approval threshold.

The City Council would take umbrage, and later begin consideration as to whether the $100,000 threshold is too high for the Mayor’s Office to operate without direct oversight.

April 15 — Rays are invited to present to the City Council details on the sister city concept, winning public support

At the invitation of the St. Petersburg City Council, Sternberg and Rays executives communicated no new information in their proposal for a sister city concept, but their presentation was used as an opportunity by the City Council to either praise the opportunity, or to at least demand the Rays future be a deciding factor in Tropicana Field’s redevelopment:

“... after hearing a presentation from Tampa Bay Rays executive leadership, members unanimously made clear they don’t support moving the process forward until after the Rays have decided their fate.”

“City Council requests that City Administration not bring any agreement with a master developer for the Tropicana Field site before City Council for approval until the future of the Rays is determined,” the resolution read.

[Tampa Bay Times]

May 24 — 10% of the Rays ownership group sue Stuart Sternberg over profits, Montreal, and control of the baseball club

Five minority share holders representing approximately 10% of the club’s ownership have sued Stu Sternberg in May, alleging that the Rays principal owner has been passing through tax burdens without sharing profits, and conspiring with the city of Montreal for nearly a decade to move the team since 2014.

The lawsuit was filed under a “verified complaint,” which exposes the plaintiffs to the penalties of perjury if their claims are false.

The demand for Sternberg to be removed from his leadership of the Rays would prove to be a sticking point.

May 24 — Later that day, Mayor Kriseman announced he will no longer negotiate with the Rays until Stuart Sternberg steps down from operating the club.

Following reporting on the lawsuit against Sternberg, the Mayor’s Office alleged that Sternberg’s actions may have violated the team’s contract with the city, and released the following statement.

Kriseman also declared he would soon narrow the Tropicana Field redevelopment proposals to two, offering the present to the City Council the benefits of each finalist.

The Council would decline Kriseman’s offer.

May 25 — Tampa Bay Times columnist sees lawsuit as a welcome opportunity to review team finances

The Tampa Bay Rays have long pled poor, but have seldom faced local scrutiny for their methods. That tune changed in May of this year with the prospect of a lawsuit, with respected Times columnist John Romano salivating at the idea of the public reviewing the Rays finances, and calling the lawsuit, “a good thing.”

May 25 — Later in the day, about 24 hours after the lawsuit was revealed, the Rays social media account released a cryptic statement on Twitter.

Rays fans know that their communications/social media people are the best in the business. So this curious public statement in the form of a tweet was out of character:

Who was represented in that “we” statement is about as clear as the Rays future in Tampa Bay. Stuart Sternberg and the corporate entities he controls, and not the Rays organization, is the defendant in the ownership lawsuit. Yet this statement claims to speak for the entire organization, which would seem to include all in the ownership group as well as management. This seems sloppy at best, and intentionally misleading at worst.

Eds note: The law suit names several Rays entities as defendants, including a few of the minority partners. Perhaps this is the “we” in the statement.

The statement also appeared to circumvented the usual press release process. Why wasn’t this statement coupled with e-mail communications, or written in the objective third party voice the team’s public relations department typically uses? (It should be noted that the Rays are without their vice president of communications, who stepped down at the start of the season.)

May 26 — Mayor Kriseman reiterates the need for Stuart Sternberg to step down from operations at the Tampa Bay Rays

Although Mayor Kriseman is only in office for seven more months, the two-term limited city leader made an appearance on the the JP Peterson Show on WWBA-AM 820 to discuss the lawsuit, distancing himself from his former ally:

“As long as he’s in that role, I can’t negotiate with him, because part of the complaint calls for him to be removed.”

Kriseman would later announce he is surprisingly not running for higher office in 2022, as he intends to spend the time needed for campaigning on his final months as Mayor. This is likely related to his efforts to solidify the redevelopment plans at the Tropicana Field site.

May 27 — Rays President Brian Auld floats new stadium in Tampa, FL or Nashville, TN over lunch with two local politicians

Taking advantage of a previously scheduled lunch, Rays President Brian Auld had a conversation with two Commissioners from across the Bay that quickly leaked the Rays plans beyond St. Petersburg.

That conversation would not only reignite the hope of a stadium in Ybor City in the local press, but also reveal the Rays had considered Nashville, TN for its time share with Montreal.

Longtime baseball executive Dave Dombrowski, who has led baseball operations for the Tigers, Red Sox, and (currently) the Phillies, had been advocating for major league baseball in Nashville for quite some time as part of the Music City Baseball initiative, which seeks an MLB club via expansion or relocation.

May 28 — St. Petersburg business leaders plead for Rays negotiations to continue

Following the Mayor’s firm stance, leaders of St. Petersburg’s business community sent a letter to Kriseman imploring him to keep working with the Rays on a stadium deal that would keep the team in St. Pete for the long term, per the Tampa Bay Times.

May 28 — Later that day, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor shruged off the implications of the ownership lawsuit in a press conference

“You know me... I can work with anybody.”

Tampa Mayor Castor, who was not in office the last time the Rays considered a move to Hillsborough County, can certainly come to the situation with fresh eyes, even though she would not be able to bring much in the way of public funds to the table.

The Rays had previously chosen the historic Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa for it’s next stadium location, but failed to form a coalition in the local community to drive a stadium effort after three years. Indeed, the Rays were unable to secure the land for a new stadium, or any political allies beyond the County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who clearly was not an effective champion.

Hagan would later be investigated by the FBI in part for his role in the stadium land search, per local news reports.

May 28 — The busy week concludes with Mayor Kriseman narrowing the Tropicana Field site proposals to two finalists

Mayor Rick Kriseman has not slowed his pace on selecting the developer for re-developing the Tropicana Field site, even with the Rays future unclear and the City Council opposed.

You can review the remaining proposals here:

Our article includes a poll that reveals a clear favorite between the two proposals.

June 1 — St. Petersburg City Council Chair Ed Montanari holds press conference siding with the Rays

Montanari made the rare move to call a press conference, urging Mayor Rick Kriseman to continue stadium negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays. Montanari was joined by St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce President Christopher Steinocher as well as fellow City Council members Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll.

Montanari and Driscoll were two of four Councilmembers to support the Rays sister city proposal at their proposal in May, while Councilmember Rice was the lead draftee of the resolution drafted by the Council following the presentation.

Combined, those five members form a likely majority on the Council in support of the Rays cause for a new stadium in St. Petersburg.

June 1 — Mayor Kriseman accuses City Council of foul play

Following the press conference, Kriseman did not mince words, alleging the City Council is prioritizing one person above the rest of the taxpayers in St. Petersburg.

June 3 Tampa Bay Times editors urge Kriseman to resume talks with the team.

They write:

It’s hard to have faith in — or even understand — Kriseman’s strategy, which has put him at odds with St. Petersburg leaders, creating an opening for other cities to woo the Rays while insisting the city has a stake in an internal team ownership dispute.