St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Ed Montanari on Tuesday held a news conference at Tropicana Field in which he urged an end to the acrimonious — and currently stalled — negotiations surrounding the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete.
Flanked by fellow City Council members Gina Driscoll, Brandi Gabbard and Darden Rice, as well as St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Steinocher and Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. President and CEO J.P. DuBuque, Montanari responded to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s assertion last week that majority owner Stu Sternberg should relinquish control of the team because of a lawsuit filed against him by five of the team’s minority owners.
Kriseman also said the allegations against Sternberg make it impossible for him to negotiate with the team, and, further complicating the relationship between the team and city, the mayor has continued to move forward with the redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site despite City Council’s desire to pause that process until an agreement is reached with the Rays.
“We want the Rays to continue playing in St. Petersburg beyond the end of their use agreement” at the Trop, Montanari said. “A dialogue with the Rays concerning the team’s future in St. Petersburg should occur prior to the award of an agreement with a developer. City Council supports a process where City Council, city administration, Pinellas County officials and the Rays work collaboratively to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg for decades to come.”
Excluding the Rays from the redevelopment process, he said, would be “foolish and shortsighted and not in the public’s best interest.”
Montanari, responding to questions from reporters, also made clear that Sternberg’s legal situation does not concern him, calling the lawsuit an “internal” matter. “I don’t see it having any effect on negotiations,” he said. “I don’t see any reason not to negotiate with the Rays.”
Pinellas County Commission Chairman Dave Eggers also spoke at the news conference and echoed Montanari’s stance that it was time for a “reset” in the relationship with the Rays, who have pushed a controversial split-season plan with Montreal as their most viable path for staying in St. Pete but have also expressed interest in restarting talks with Tampa. Also, Rays President Brian Auld raised eyebrows last week when he apparently floated the idea of the Rays moving to Nashville.
“I would ask the mayor to sit down with the Rays and begin patching up relationships,” Eggers said. “The importance of that is far bigger than those of us sitting around the table today. What we’re trying to do here is secure the Rays for generations to come. Please, everyone refocus and restart the negotiations today.”
Kriseman, speaking a few blocks away at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the beginning of Pride Month, said he was about to reach out to the Rays right before the lawsuit against Sternberg came to light, but that the legal action has handcuffed him.
“The lawsuit is seeking a receivership,” he said. “It is seeking the removal of the managing partner, Stu Sternberg. And so how do you have negotiations with a managing partner who might be removed from office? And so until we have greater clarity, as much as I would like to have reinitiated negotiations, we can’t do it until we have more clarity related to this lawsuit.”
Kriseman was also asked about Eggers’ call to hit the reset button.
“I’m not sure what they mean by ‘reset button,’” he said. “The way negotiations work is offers come, they get rejected, and counteroffers get put on the table.”
Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg had begun the process of hiring a sports consultant to facilitate talks with the Rays, but Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said that effort was on hold because of the lawsuit.
“That was our intention,” Kriseman said, “and then the lawsuit happened.”
The term-limited mayor, who’s in his final few months in office, also held fast to his position that negotiations with the Rays and redevelopment of the Trop site can occur simultaneously.
“Unless we’re making a conscious decision that the future of the Rays is more important than the future of the community, then you move forward with the Tropicana Field redevelopment,” Kriseman said. “They can happen at the same time.
“The longer we delay redevelopment, the longer we delay creating jobs and the longer we delay creating opportunities for more affordable housing.”
Veronica Brezina contributed reporting to this story.