Mayor Castor stays mum in midst of local resentment over Rays’ dreams of Montreal

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TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor has been busy hosting the Warrior Games, rebooting the holiday fireworks show and building bridges to minority businesses in her first weeks on the job, but she’s kept mum about one burning issue — a new stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Other local leaders as well as the Rays have had plenty to say about who takes the next turn in the limbo line of a stadium search now that the Rays have shocked baseball with the announcement they want to split the home season between here and Montreal.

READ MORE: Rays’ Montreal news stuns Tampa, Hillsborough officials.

This week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Rays owner Stu Sternberg would have to pay for the privilege of speaking formally with other suitors, pointing to the team’s user agreement with his city. And Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan recently reiterated his position that the user agreement does not preclude the Rays from speaking with other potential host communities.

Castor, who took office May 1, has limited herself to statements expressing hope and confidence in a Tampa Bay solution.

“Mayor Castor has said time and time again that she believes Rays baseball belongs in Tampa Bay,” said spokeswoman Ashley Bauman. “She’s ready and open to conversations with the Rays when they want to talk.”

READ MORE: Three mayors. One owner. No deal. St. Pete’s futile history with the Rays.

Castor may be keeping her eye on what her counterpart across the bay has in mind.

In 2013, when Hagan invited Sternberg to talk to Hillsborough commissioners, Bill Foster — St. Petersburg mayor at the time — threatened to sue. He didn’t.

But would his successor?

“Mayor Kriseman and our city attorney have contemplated all scenarios,” spokesman Ben Kirby said in email to the Times. “Action will be taken should there be an occurrence of tortious interference or noncompliance with the use agreement.”

Hagan seems to have stopped talking now, too. He didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.

READ MORE: Which do the Rays want: a split season or a new ballpark?

Many in Hillsborough questioned at first how Sternberg could speak with Montreal when Tampa is barred from discussions with his team. A three-year window for talks across the bay, granted by St. Petersburg, closed in December with a failed proposal for a stadium in Ybor City.

But in the end, everyone seems to agree the Rays have not violated their use agreement in their dealings so far with a Montreal group headed by Stephen Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune.

Still, some local leaders think it would be a good idea to restart dialogue between Hillsborough and the Rays.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said he thought it would help to have Sternberg address commissioners. He wouldn’t extend the invitation himself, saying he would defer to Hagan — longtime point man on the Rays question.

“Given the latest news, it probably would be a good idea to hear from him directly. It certainly wouldn’t hurt,” Merrill said.

And Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera would like to see more talk locally, too, not less. An impasse stretching back more than a decade is drawing to a close one way or another, Viera said, with the St. Petersburg agreement ending in 2027.

“The more of a dialogue on this issue, the better,” Viera said. “It would be a positive step.”

Viera said he hasn’t yet considered inviting Sternberg to speak at a Tampa City Council meeting.

Still, he said, if he or another council member decide to extend the invitation, it might yield something unexpected. Or at the very least it keeps open the lines of communication, he said.

Most of Viera’s constituents in north Tampa and New Tampa aren’t happy with the plan to play halfsies with Montreal. It might help the Rays placate a restive region to go public again, he said.

“It’s something I think would be a positive gesture,” Viera said.

“The overwhelming response to this has not been positive, but certainly it’s always good to talk.”

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.


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