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Tampa Bay Rays Stadium News: Mayor Bill Foster and Rays' Stu Sternberg meet face-to-face for first time in 13 months

2:33 PM, Feb 15, 2013   |    comments
An aerial view of Tropicana Field
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Neither side wanted to say "where" or "when," but St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg met face-to-face Friday for the first time since last January.

And much like last year's meeting, neither party indicated any details of the meeting, which was potentially loaded with legal landmines.

In a joint statement following their meeting, the Rays and Foster said, "Today's conversation was a productive one and we anticipate continuing it in the coming weeks."

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Mayor Foster has dug his heels in for years, refusing to let the Rays amend their contract with the city to explore potential new stadium sites in Tampa.  He has encouraged the team to work with the city to first explore potential sites in Pinellas County near the Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges.

Foster has recently said if the contract is amended to allow the Rays to shop around and the team tries to leave the region at some point, the city's legal argument to prevent the move could be significantly weakened.

For their part, the Rays have insisted for two-and-a-half years they won't consider any new stadium sites in Tampa Bay without the ability to consider all stadium sites in Tampa Bay.

The Rays are seemingly locked into a contract to play baseball at Tropicana Field through 2027 unless the city agrees to change that deal or let the team out of it.

The last time Foster and Sternberg got together for a quasi-secret meeting like this was in January 2012. It lasted two hours but we don't know what was discussed.

And of course, the bigger issue that looms is how a new stadium would get paid for. It's estimated that would cost upwards of a half-billion dollars.

St. Pete's City Council considered a proposal a week ago to potentially let the Rays pay a fee to the city to get the right to shop around to other locations in Tampa Bay. The team would pay $1.4 million a year for the privilege.

That idea didn't pass, but City Attorney John Wolfe is reviewing it and it could come up again.

Former state representative Rick Kriseman, who's running for mayor against Foster this year, says he would handle things differently and allow the Rays to look beyond St. Petersburg for a new stadium location elsewhere in Tampa Bay.  You can read more of what he told 10 News about the Stadium Saga here.

Meanwhile, a new poll conducted by St. Pete Polls and the website indicates voters in Tampa don't just approve of the way Mayor Bob Buckhorn is running the city; they also approve of his hesitation to spend tax dollars on a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

When asked about Buckhorn's handling of the Rays' campaign for a new stadium, 45% of Tampa voters approved of his approach, while 21% disapproved.  As for his overall approval numbers, Buckhorn posted a strong 58%/18% favorable/unfavorable mark.

Meanwhile, among respondents, only 43% of voters in Tampa said they approved of tax dollars going toward a new stadium. Forty-five percent of Tampa voters said they disapprove.

Find 10 News Reporter Grayson Kamm or Investigator Noah Pransky on Twitter.  For more Rays stadium coverage, you can also read the Shadow of the Stadium sports business blog.

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