ST PETERSBURG, Fla. - Following questions from 10Investigates, city code enforcement officials have notified the Tampa Bay Rays that they are violating their contract with the city by failing to maintain their large billboard outside Tropicana Field.
The prominent board above the intersection of I-275 and I-175 serves as a welcome to both Tropicana Field and Downtown St. Petersburg. It displays a team logo, a pair of sponsors' logos, and a "St. Petersburg Welcomes You!" message.
But at night, the lack of maintenance is clear.
Numerous lights on the sign appear to have been out for years and the video board is failing. Some of the fabric is torn, and some of the panels are detaching.
The issues would appear to violate city code on upkeep of signage.
A spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city has asked the Rays "numerous times" in recent years to fix the sign, but little had been done.
Prior to Thursday's season-opener, team president Brian Auld told 10News about $7 million in renovations that include new turf and concessions improvements. The team also spent more than $1 million on a 2014 renovation that made it easier for fans to get around the perimeter of the ballpark and visit concessions.
The Rays have said they spent more than $20 million on Trop improvements after Stu Sternberg took control of the team in 2005. Some of those funds have come from a joint maintenance account shared with the city.
But the outside appearance of Tropicana Field and its signage have gone largely unaddressed in recent years, bolstering the team's argument that the stadium is in need of replacement.
Critics of the team, including former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, have suggested the Rays have failed to properly invest in the area for the better part of the last decade since they started campaigning for a new home.
The Rays did not have an immediate response Friday, but a city official told 10Investigates the team had been contacted about the issue and promised to make the repairs.
A spokesman for Mayor Kriseman said the Rays have done an "exceptional job" of maintaining Tropicana Field otherwise.
"Grassroots" campaign in Tampa?
Meanwhile, the grassroots group that’s trying to build business and community support for a new stadium across the bay, Tampa Bay Rays 2020, may not be so grassroots after all.
One of the group's founders told 10Investigates on Friday that the Rays have provided the main funding to the non-profit.
A pair of Tampa business leaders, Ron Christaldi and Chuck Sykes, are heading up the effort to secure pledges from local businesses to purchase tickets at the new stadium. Christaldi said the Rays have provided an undisclosed amount for - what appears to be - a healthy roster of public relations and marketing consultants who have been hired on behalf of the campaign.
Christaldi said he was not receiving any compensation from the team but that his firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, had done some legal work for Tampa Bay Rays 2020. He did not say if any other attorneys at the firm had been contracted by the Rays.
Christaldi and Sykes spoke Friday morning at Cafe Con Tampa, a forum that addresses different local issues each week. Sykes said the two men got involved because they believe pro teams help bring together a community, and the opportunity to be proactive about bridging the Ybor City/Channelside corridors with development is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“Yes...investing in a new stadium will be risky," Christaldi said. "But I’m betting on that risk myself."
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