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Rays lawsuit impacts plans for talks between city, county, team

Margie Manning

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The Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, 2017 Photo: City of St. Petersburg

Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg have put a hold on the process to hire a consultant to negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays on what could be the future of professional baseball in the area.

The process was halted after five limited partners in Tampa Bay Rays Baseball filed suit against Stu Sternberg, the Rays principal owner, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton told the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.

“We had begun working with the city to bring a consultant on board to look at the financial model of professional baseball here in Pinellas County, especially regarding the proposed split-season model — the financial impact of that and the economic impact of that, along with the cost,” Burton said. “We were just beginning that process. This has caused us to say, let’s pause this while the city figures out where to go with this and what that means.”

Barry Burton

Burton said he would like to see the process continue to move forward.

The lawsuit complicates negotiations with the Rays, said Kevin King, chief of policy and public engagement for St. Petersburg.

“It is true that we won’t be moving forward with the consultant given the state of things within the Rays organization, and that the lawsuit also complicates negotiations with the Rays. The City of St. Petersburg will continue to move forward, however, with redevelopment of the site, with or without a future stadium,” King said in an email to St. Pete Catalyst.

On Monday, Mayor Rick Kriseman called the lawsuit “very concerning” in a statement on Twitter.

 

The lawsuit, filed May 22, alleged Sternberg engaged in a “relentless scheme” to squeeze out limited partners in the organization that owned the Rays and culminated in Sternberg’s “surreptitious transfer” of the entire baseball club and franchise to a separate entity, called Rays Baseball Club, a corporation of which Sternberg is the sole member. The Rays have issued a statement saying they have abided by the partnership agreement and the lawsuit is deceptive, inflammatory and full of errors and untrue statements.

Burton and Kriseman last month selected Inner Circle Sports to negotiate on the county and city’s behalf with the Rays. Inner Circle Sports, headquartered in New York City, is a boutique investment bank focused on the global sports, media, and entertainment industry.

A draft of a proposed contract called for the company to help negotiate with the team on Tropicana Field site redevelopment plans, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The company would get $80,000 for four months of work, the Times story said.

Burton and Kriseman had initial conversations with the firm but have not yet signed the contract, Burton said.

“But we were looking forward to getting started with that. I had conversations with the team and we were hoping to bring all parties together,” he said.

Burton said the consulting contract was separate from the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. In April, Kriseman signed a contract with HR&A Advisors to provide owner’s representative services for the Trop redevelopment.

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