ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Now that he's mayor, Rick Kriseman doesn't seem anxious to help the Rays look for a new home in Tampa.
During a interview with 10 News on a wide range of topics, St. Petersburg's mayor said he's "not necessarily convinced" the Rays want to move to Tampa and he's looking forward to talking with team leaders "about what we can do collaboratively to increase attendance."
"What can we do together to try and increase attendance?" Kriseman asked rhetorically. "That has to be our first conversation before we even start talking about any moves here or there. Because I am convinced we can make changes and make [the Rays] more successful here and I'd love to see them stay here in St Petersburg."
Kriseman's comments echo much of what his predecessor Bill Foster said while in office and while running for re-election. But on the campaign trail, Kriseman painted Foster as an obstructionist, unwilling to compromise with the Rays and unwilling to look out for the region's interests.
But like Foster, Kriseman has maintained his city's interests come first. Now, it seems, he is willing to try to convince Rays ownership it doesn't necessarily need to leave St. Petersburg. Kriseman did not mention the city's current contract with the Rays, which runs through 2027, nor how he proposed to solve the ongoing stalemate, which has seen little progress since 2008.
Instead, Kriseman focused on four factors he said would help improve attendance over the next few years, including transit options, new businesses coming to St. Petersburg, convincing Tampa residents to cross the Howard-Frankland Bridge, and allowing teenage Rays fans to mature into young professionals who can buy more tickets.
Kriseman based much of his hope for Tropicana Field on the passing of Greenlight Pinellas, which could bring improved bus and rail options to St. Pete and Pinellas County over the course of the next decade. Light rail could also potentially connect to a Hillsborough County transit hub, which could reduce many of the commuting stresses fans sometimes complain about.
The mayor also said he is looking to recruit new 500- or 1,000-employee companies to St. Pete's downtown, "so when 5 p.m. comes, people can leave business and go straight over to the stadium".
Convincing Hillsborough County residents to cross the Bay may be a tougher task.
"We need to make the Howard-Frankland Bridge a two way-bridge," Kriseman said. "[Pinellas residents] go over to Hillsborough County to attend Buccaneers games and Lightning games. We're not seeing the same level of support coming this way over, so I'd like to see us work with Hillsborough County and Tampa to get greater participation from its residents."
Kriseman's final factor for improving attendance at The Trop is simply giving young fans time to grow up.
"You look at the age of the franchise, we are just getting to the point where in the next three-to-five years, a child who has grown up with the Rays will be old enough to buy their own season tickets. We're not there yet, but we're only two-to-three years away from it."
Kriseman said he didn't know when he'd get to discuss the Rays' stadium campaign with team executives, but team owner Stu Sternberg said Tuesday morning he'd be in Florida through Thursday and indicated he may have some free time for stadium discussions.
10 Sports anchor Chris Fischer spoke to Sternberg in Port Charlotte and his report will air on 10 News at 11 p.m.
Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.
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