An aerial view of Tropicana Field
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Four years after he campaigned on a platform of helping the Rays find a new long-term home, Bill Foster, now mayor of St. Petersburg, says talks continue with the team but he "had no idea" if an end to a long-standing stalemate was in sight.
"I was sent out to negotiate," said Foster, who has taken the brunt of the blame for inaction on the stadium issue. "I think when you negotiate in good faith and you try to end a very frustrating stalemate, you put everything on the table."
TIMELINE: Rays' Stadium Saga
BLOG: Shadow of the Stadium
Foster said St. Petersburg and the Rays are still in the "discussion" phase of new stadium talks, but acknowledged city attorneys met with team attorneys Wednesday to continue to negotiate a possible amendment to the team's contract. The use agreement currently runs through 2027, but the Rays are seeking permission to explore possible stadium sites in Hillsborough County, closer to the center of the region's population.
Foster, an attorney by trade, has always been protective of the city's legal leverage, but said his relationship with Rays owner Stu Sternberg has never been better.
The mayor, facing two strong challengers in his bid for re-election, also faces criticism for not doing more to work with the Rays.
"If every year was an election year, the city would be in great shape," said mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, a former colleague of Foster's on city council. "Well, now, it's an election year, and we're having dialogue with the Rays that we should have had a long time ago."
Kriseman has sent mixed messages himself on the Stadium Saga, indicating support for an amendment that would allow the Rays to explore Hillsborough County as well as maximize compensation for the city if the team leaves early. But he also told 10 News on Thursday his priority would be to work with the team to stay in St. Petersburg.
"We need to do everything we can to keep the team here," Kriseman said. "Our citizens have invested a lot of tax dollars in this team, but you also have citizens who have invested their heart and soul; they've given up their homes & businesses for that stadium to be built. Their sacrifice needs to be respected."
FLASHBACK - What a Foster win means for the Rays (11/3/09)
The third candidate expected to compete on August 27 for two spots in the mayoral run-off is another former councilmember, Kathleen Ford.
Ford says she generally has agreed with Foster's tough stance with the Rays, a position she's held since 2009, when she lost to Foster by a small margin.
She said any amendment to the city's contract with the Rays should include a 'non-waiver' clause where the city doesn't waive any of its rights. Ford said a recent amendment, proposed by Councilmember Charlie Gerdes, didn't protect the city's interests enough. She thought letting the Rays look elsewhere would diminish the city's leverage to enforce its current contract, which is set to run through 2027.
"(The Gerdes amendment) would waive some of obvious defenses in a contract action in a lawsuit, so I don't support that," Ford said, adding any new ballpark that included taxpayer dollars should require voter approval through a referendum.
Ironically, Ford, Foster, and Kriseman are all attorneys who have served on city council. Current councilmember Gerdes is also an attorney, but as Kriseman told 10 News in February, "two different attorneys can come up with two different opinions on an issue."
Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.