St. Petersburg City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes doesn’t think the Tampa Bay Rays can have high enough attendance at home games whether they have a brand new stadium in St. Petersburg or Tampa.
He said during a Café Con Tampa talk Friday that the team’s only hope for success in the Tampa Bay region might be to play a split season in Montreal.
The team previously floated an idea that would split home games between Montreal and Tropicana Field, but St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman scoffed at the idea.
Some fans also balked, arguing the city and its taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for a new stadium if the team isn’t fully committed to playing its full season in it.
“[Hillsborough has] a problem with a revenue source, but their geography is primo,” Gerdes said.
On the contrary, St. Pete has a potential revenue source, but it’s location within the region leaves too few fans within a 30-minute drive from the stadium.
Pinellas County has long had available tourism bed tax dollars to help fund a stadium. Hillsborough County wanted to leverage community redevelopment dollars as well as tap potential private sources, a plan the Rays rejected.
And whatever ends up happening, has to get the OK from not just the Rays, but the entire Major League Baseball.
“If the team moves from Pinellas to Hillsborough, Charlie says attendance is not going to meaningfully change,” Gerdes said, using his own name to emphasize that was his opinion.
Home game attendance is abysmal, but attendance is down across the board. Gerdes blames big screen TVs and the comforts of home. Why schlep it to a stadium when you can watch the game for free at home with access to your own bathroom, not to mention much cheaper beer.
Gerdes said Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg told the city a full season in St. Pete was not an option.
“ ‘I will not give you 81 games,’ he said that,” Gerdes said.
He said that’s even if the team gets a shiny new stadium on the city’s downtown waterfront.
Gerdes said he’s more interested in redeveloping the massive Tropicana Field site. If asked, he said he would support another memorandum of understanding with the Rays to allow them to again negotiate with Tampa.
Gerdes was speaking with Tampa City Council Chair Luis Viera during an event sharing priorities on both sides of the bay. The Rays issue often pits St. Pete against Tampa, but Gerdes was all too happy to let Tampa have another stab, especially if that’s what keeps the team local.
“It’s so important to continue to try to have some sort of dialogue,” Viera said. “If the rays leave the region that is a real big failure on our part.”