ST. PETERSBURG — Weeks after declaring he could not negotiate with the Tampa Bay Rays while a lawsuit is pending against principal owner Stu Sternberg, Mayor Rick Kriseman this week has done a 180.
The mayor now says the lawsuit doesn’t prevent him from conducting stadium negotiations with the team, and his administration said he plans to reopen lines of communication.
The revelation came during a City Council discussion Thursday about whether the body should hear presentations from the two developers Kriseman named as finalists to redevelop the Tropicana Field site. The council voted down scheduling the presentations, sticking to a previous resolution seeking to bring the Trop project to a halt until the city and Rays have reached an agreement.
The vote Thursday failed 5-3, with Ed Montanari, Gina Driscoll, Darden Rice, Robert Blackmon and Brandi Gabbard voting against scheduling the presentations. The April resolution vote was 7-0, with Lisa Wheeler-Bowman absent.
Kriseman has acted with urgency to pick a developer for the project before he leaves office in January, and has offered different justifications for why the lawsuit prevented him from negotiating with the Rays. After the Tampa Bay Times reported on the lawsuit — which was filed by a group of minority owners and alleges Sternberg committed financial misconduct — Kriseman went onto the JP Peterson Show on WWBA-AM 820 on May 24 and said the existence of the suit prevents him from negotiating with Sternberg because the suit seeks to remove Sternberg as general partner. Sternberg denies the allegations.
“It really makes it untenable for me to be able to sit down and negotiate with him,” Kriseman said on the radio show. “As long as he’s in that role, I can’t negotiate with him, because part of the complaint calls for him to be removed.”
The mayor added that if he worked out a deal with Sternberg, and then the owner was subsequently removed by a court, “Then I’ve got no deal.”
His office now says the reason he couldn’t negotiate with the team was because City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch advised him not to while her office investigated whether the allegations raised in the lawsuit amounted to a violation of the team’s Trop lease with the city.
Her office received a sworn statement from Rays General Council John Higgins on Wednesday, which helped alleviate concerns. With that roadblock cleared, Kriseman’s office says he will renew dialogue with the team.
“The mayor stated repeatedly that clarity related to the potential implications of the lawsuit filed against the team’s principal owner was needed before he could reengage the Rays in negotiations, considering that allegations in the complaint required a review of the Tampa Bay Rays’ compliance with its use agreement with the City of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said in a statement. “While he still has concerns about receivership and Mr. Sternberg being removed, neither will happen in the near future, and should that happen, it will have to be addressed.”
The Rays declined to comment.
In addition to City Council turning down presentations from the developers, Rays leadership did so, too.
After Kriseman picked the two Trop finalists, he sent a letter to team president Brian Auld.
“Because I sincerely believe an agreement between the City of St. Peterburg and the Tampa Bay Rays remains obtainable, and because the site, when developed, has the potential to have a strong, positive effect on the viability and financial success of the Rays, I wanted to formally extend an invitation to you and your team to meet individually with each finalist,” Kriseman wrote June 1.
Auld responded, declining the offer.
“It is disappointing that we have not had any substantive conversations with you or your staff since January 6.”