ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mayor Bill Foster's response to the Rays' request for a contract amendment was a resounding and definitive "no."
Foster sent a letter to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on Friday rejecting a proposal that would have allowed the team to explore possible new stadium locations in Hillsborough County.
READ: Bill Foster's letter to Stuart Sternberg (PDF)
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"In light of the Rays obligation to the people of St. Petersburg to play fifteen more major league seasons at Tropicana Field (or 1,215 regular season home games, plus post-season)," Foster wrote in his letter, "I respectfully disagree that our exploration into (the proposed Carillon/Gateway site) in St. Petersburg would be 'incomplete and inconclusive.' "
Foster, who while campaigning for mayor in 2009 suggested a Carillon/Gateway stadium, has been supportive of the recent proposal made by CityScape. But the Rays maintained their two-year-old stance that they would only consider new stadium sites in Pinellas County as part of a comprehensive search including the entire Tampa Bay area.
In a statement, the Rays added that they were "surprised and disappointed" by Foster's response:
Our stance has been and continues to be that only a regional dialogue will preserve baseball for generations of Tampa Bay fans. We are both surprised and disappointed by the letter from Mayor Foster today. City Attorney John Wolfe had indicated there would be a public meeting for council members to discuss the City's reply to our October 11th proposal.
We had been looking forward to that discussion and we look forward to our upcoming meetings with the Hillsborough and Pinellas Boards of County Commissioners. We invite all interested parties, including the St. Petersburg City Council, to join the conversation.
Foster, a lawyer by trade, has dug his heels in too, maintaining the Rays should not look outside St. Petersburg for a new stadium - especially with so many years remain on the current agreement. He has said allowing the team to look elsewhere would weaken the city's leverage should the team try a hostile departure.
"Through the exclusive efforts of the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, this region now enjoys Major League Baseball, and the fruits of their labor," Foster continued in his letter to Sternberg.
"When you became the principal owner of the Rays in 2005, you did so with your eyes wide open, fully aware of this history, and with full knowledge of the commitments made by your predecessors just ten years earlier.
"The potential for attendance challenges was foreseeable in 1995, and discussed at length during negotiations, and thus, the City bargained away some of its interests in exchange for a thirty year agreement that could not be terminated on the basis of attendance."
"Make no mistake," Foster continued. "This is not about money, and the City has absolutely no interest in 'winding down' our relationship prior to 2027. An optimal ballpark location and design for our region most certainly can be found in St. Petersburg and Pinellas Gateway, and I am convinced that such a ballpark would be a source of pride for generations of Tampa Bay residents."
Foster said the city's offer to discuss the CityScape/Carillon proposal is still on the table and "while we can write letters all day long, my preference is still a face to face meeting to discuss these issues of great mutual importance."
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