People close to the negotiations don’t believe the Rays are going to announce whether they’re moving during the St. Petersburg mayoral race.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan — Tampa’s liaison to the Rays’ front office — said he believes that the team leaders don’t want to be accused of influencing the outcome and are going to stay on the sideline until it’s over.
The election is Aug. 29, just eight days away. So what’s the big deal?
If incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, former mayor Rick Baker or the other candidates don’t get 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 29 election, it will go to a runoff in November between the top two candidates. Polls show Baker with a solid lead, but it’s far from certain that he’ll reach the threshold needed to prevent a head-to-head matchup with Kriseman.
Meaning, it could be another two and a half months before the Rays say if they want to stay in St. Petersburg or relocate east of Tampa Bay.
It’s no secret that the Rays have had better success under the Kriseman administration than during Baker’s eight years. Kriseman and the Rays struck a deal that allowed the team to look in Hillsborough County, something that didn’t happen during Baker’s term.
If the Rays make an announcement in a way that’s perceived to help or hurt Kriseman or Baker, it could hamper negotiations in Kriseman’s second term or Baker’s new administration.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times in July that he didn’t think the outcome of the race would affect the team’s pursuit of a new ballpark.
“We’ve worked with both the mayoral candidates in the past and we’ve had good experiences with both of them at times, so that all remains to be seen,” Sternberg said.
The team has privately told Hagan the same, noting that the agreement with St. Petersburg runs until January 2019. Even if Baker opposes the Rays leaving St. Petersburg, they don’t think he can stop it, Hagan said.
Still, staying on the sidelines until after a runoff election means that the Rays search is likely to run into the third year of the three-year pact. Picking a site, which has already taken two years now, won’t be nearly as difficult or politically tenuous as the conversations about who is going to pay for the ballpark and how. Those talks may come down to the wire, not to mention the votes by the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission.
Hagan is clearly starting to get anxious and Hillsborough County could announce their preferred ballpark location before the Rays are willing to weigh in.
“It’s somewhat fluid, dependent on the mayor’s race,” Hagan said last week. “In the perfect scenario, we can announce our location and the Rays will also comment that this is their preferred site. I’m uncertain as of right now if they’re going to be willing to make that announcement in advance of the mayor’s race being determined. I believe the Rays want to be in Tampa and if the team is going to remain in our region it will be in Tampa.”