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No stadium in on-deck circle

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg reiterates his pledge not to go to bat for a new ballpark.

By MARC TOPKIN AND AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published May 9, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays eventually will need a new stadium to replace Tropicana Field.

But they're not expecting one soon.

The team's principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, raised some eyebrows by telling the New York Times in Tuesday's editions that Tropicana Field, the domed stadium that cost nearly $220-million in taxpayer funds, will be obsolete in five years.

"Baseball does not feel right indoors," Sternberg told the paper for a story about the Rays moving three home games next week to Orlando.

Sternberg clarified his comments later in the day, telling the St. Petersburg Times that there is no deadline for a new ballpark and that he'll keep his promise never to demand one.

But Sternberg also said he doesn't think the Trop, which opened in 1990, can be the team's home for the 20 years remaining on its city lease.

"I know we have to be here at least five years, and I know we can't be here for 20," Sternberg said. "Now that we've been in here a little bit longer and done all the improvements, we can really see the issues structurally within the building.

"It's not an option that it will last another 15 or 20 years," he said.

City Council member Bill Foster said he was glad to see Sternberg backpedal.

"We all know it wasn't built like Wrigley Field. We're not going to have it forever," Foster said. "But with all due respect to Mr. Sternberg, I kind of doubt he's ever spent July and August in South Florida in the cheap seats."

The city has plenty of reasons to balk at the idea of a new stadium now.

The city still has $108-million in outstanding loans to pay for the construction of Tropicana Field, with the stadium not being paid off until 2025.

The city also holds a lease that ties the Rays to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. It's unlikely the city would let the Rays break the lease if the team tried to leave the city.

And the city is staring down potentially huge mandated budget cuts by the State Legislature and a citizenry already feeling overtaxed.

"I think the Trop is a great facility right now. It's a great facility for baseball," Mayor Rick Baker said. But, "if Stu were to come up with a plan and it were going to be for a stadium in the city and it didn't cost any more city money, I would at least take a look at it."

When he took over the team in October 2005, Sternberg said that he would never demand a new stadium. He reiterated that promise Tuesday. "Absolutely," he said. "I was extra clear a year and a half ago, and nothing has changed."

The Rays have invested about $18-million in stadium-related upgrades over the last two years with the idea the team would be at Tropicana Field for a while, Sternberg said.

Talk about a new Rays stadium comes as efforts have so far failed to obtain any state funding for a new South Florida stadium for baseball's Florida Marlins. Also, the Rays are moving their spring training home to Port Charlotte.

The support of the Tampa Bay area and the state would be needed to replace the Trop, Sternberg said.

"Given the scope of the project, it's got to make economic sense and it's got to make civic sense," Sternberg said.

"If we do our job right as an organization (in improving the franchise), I would expect that it would make it that much easier and that much clearer that it would be the right thing for the municipalities and the Devil Rays."

[Last modified May 9, 2007, 00:05:41]


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