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Foster reports to council: 'Rays want to look around'

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The Tampa Bay Rays declined St. Petersburg's offer to help look for a new stadium site within Pinellas County earlier this week, but Mayor Bill Foster was nonetheless upbeat Thursday about the team's future in the city.

Foster also downplayed the stadium standoff's urgency as he gave a briefing to the St. Petersburg City Council.

"There is no dire urgency for us to develop plans this year or next," he told the council.

Foster and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg got together for a much-anticipated summit Tuesday to talk about the Rays future in St. Petersburg.

Foster had revealed some of what happened to reporters earlier this week, but he opened up about the discussion to the council on Thursday.

Foster said the Rays still want to look throughout the Bay area for potential stadium sites.

"They were very clear they were not going to join a unilateral effort by the city to look at sites in Pinellas County," he said.

Yet the Rays expressed some doubts about Tampa, as well, Foster said. The team has questions about the region's ability to support three professional sports teams –the Rays, the Lightning and the Buccaneers.

"I did not leave the meeting feeling that the Rays believe Tampa would be the panacea."

No one from the Rays attended Thursday's City Council meeting, but Sternberg had made similar comments to the Tribune immediately after his meeting with the mayor Tuesday.

At that time, Sternberg said the team was no closer to convincing Foster it must be able to look outside the city and county.

In recent months, several members of the St. Petersburg City Council expressed frustration at Foster's unwillingness to talk about stadium issues with the team.

Council members seemed relieved Thursday that Foster promised to speak more openly with the Rays. They also seemed eager to take on an unusual task for a governmental body – ticket salesman.

Council members unanimously agreed that council Chairwoman Leslie Curran should write a letter to the Rays offering to help the team sell tickets.

Councilman Jim Kennedy and a city development administrator accompanied Foster on his trip to Tropicana Field on Tuesday to meet with Sternberg.

Thursday evening, Kennedy said he was struck by how rattled Sternberg seemed by the community's rejection of a 2007 team proposal for a new stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront.

"This was very much of a fresh scar," Kennedy said.

msasso@tampatrib.com

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