Mayor Bill Foster backpedals on Tropicana Field discussions

3:46 AM, Aug 7, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster says not so fast.

Reports had the Mayor giving the green light to the Rays to start talking about places other than the Trop to play ball beyond 2027.

But Tuesday afternoon, Foster said they're not quite there yet.

Foster says he doesn't want the team to leave the Bay Area when their contract ends in 2027, but he realizes it's time to start figuring out how to keep them somewhere in the Bay Area region beyond that.

He says he's not at the point of giving them the green light, but has at least gone from red to yellow.

See also: Mayor Foster: Rays can consider Tampa stadium sites

"There will be no more Tampa Bay Rays in 2028 if we don't enter into these talks," Foster concedes.

Foster also says that for all the promotion, for all the players' top-tier performance, the Rays are just not drawing a crowd at the Trop.

"And the fact that our attendance is worse than last year? That's bothersome," he said.

TIMELINE: Rays' Stadium Saga

The Rays are contractually prohibited from even discussing a move from St. Pete before 2027. 

Foster, however, recently seemed to open the door to at least letting Hillsborough, Tampa and other entities make best their pitch at keeping the team in the Bay Area beyond that.

See also: Rays: Can Hillsborough pay for new Rays ballpark?

Then on Tuesday, Foster said they were still just talking, about talking about it.

"Again, discussions. Discussions," he stressed.

In a statement, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says "It's time we broke the stalemate, and I look forward to the opportunity for the Rays to explore all options."

But what are the options?

We asked a top sports economist if the Rays did move to other side of the Bay, where could they go?

"You need to be centrally located and you need to be around the most concentration of people," said Economics Professor Andrew Zimbalist.

Zimbalist, one of the foremost experts on the topic and a professor of economics, said the Raymond James area is fine for football. Not so good for baseball, since it's still a commuter destination.

The Fairgrounds footprint is like the Trop, he said- too far outside the population center.

Ybor is interesting, but if you're gonna move into Tampa, Zimbalist said - as is the case with most cities, downtown is likely the best spot.

In Tampa's case, he said, that's near the Forum and Channelside, creating a synergy of population and corporate cash.

"If you get higher income individuals into the ballpark, you can charge more for the seats. You can sell more catering, more drinks, more premium seating," he said.

Ad rates also rise, and sponsorships do too.

Zimbalist thinks Foster, who is up for re-election, is being more practical than political following months of negotiations.

He seems willing to compromise, but all the while, Foster knows how hard it would be in the current political atmosphere to raise the $600 million to $700 million it would take to build a new stadium.

SEE ALSO: St. Pete mayoral candidates discuss Rays stadium saga

At least one Hillsborough County official though, thinks they can do it while vowing not to use tax dollars.

And if Foster's light goes from yellow to green, private investment may step up to the plate too.

Ryan Newbauer, who heads "Build it downtown Tampa" said with the legal hurdle cleared "it will hopefully encourage the private sector in particular to be more open to working on this."

"Naming rights, development rights, sponsorships rights- and I believe working together with the county, the city and the private sector- we'll be able to come up with a solution," added Hillsborough County Commission Chair Ken Hagan.

The Tampa Bay Rays said they have no comment.

Follow 10 News Reporter Eric Glasser on twitter @ericglassertv

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