Tensions continue to rise in St. Petersburg, as Mayor Bill Foster won't back down from his position that the Tampa Bay Rays can only consider potential new stadium sites within St. Pete. While the St. Petersburg City Council wants to discuss the issue and is curious on Foster's plan to keep the Rays in St. Pete, Foster has been tight-lipped about everything and refuses to talk with them. He even went so far as to storm out of a city council meeting recently when they tried asking him questions about his "plan."
Foster's intractability isn't winning him any friends, though, and his most recent comments are causing a stir:
" 'I believe that they are deliberately trying to hurt the team financially by not promoting it adequately,' " [Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Susan] Latvala recalled Foster telling her.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Latvala remembered responding: "Really, really? Why would they do that?"
He didn't answer, but Latvala said she assumed he thought the Rays are trying to depress attendance to gain leverage in their bid for a new stadium.
Foster is denying that he said anything of the sort to Latvala, but I see no reason why she would be fabricating this story. The comments jive with Foster's stance and his general attitude, and he seems like the type of person that would say this behind closed doors without anticipating that it would leak.
Note: As has been pointed out to me, the above paragraph is obviously very opinion driven. It's entirely possible that Latvala is lying instead, and that Foster is much more thoughtful and considerate behind doors. I have no idea, and it's not necessarily right to speculate. This story is filled with uncertainty due to the nature of the report, so please, form your own opinions. I merely wanted to present mine.
While not surprising, these comments are worrisome. They suggest that Foster has a deep mistrust of the Rays, going so far as to state convictions that sound more like conspiracy theories than solid fact. Despite what Foster has claimed, the Rays have one of the stronger marketing divisions in the majors. Their promotions have been ranked as the best in MLB over the last few seasons, and their Summer Concert Series is entirely unique and a huge boon for attendance. They could certainly do some things better -- and they need to do better in order to draw well in the area -- but suggesting that they are deliberately sabotaging their attendance reeks of paranoia.
The Rays are as far away as ever from getting a new stadium, and as long as Bill Foster is running the show, it seems increasingly unlikely that any compromise or solution will be reached. The St. Petersburg City Council will take up the issue of the Rays' stadium and use agreement on Thursday, but I wouldn't expect much action. Unless they stand up to Foster or decide to continue forward without him, this issue isn't going anywhere.