Fate of Rays in St. Pete takes urgent tone

- St. Pete business owners and politicians left a closed door rally session Friday afternoon to the sound of a ticking clock.

"Our back is against the wall," said Mark Ferguson, the owner of Ferg's restaurant in St. Petersburg. "We do not want to lose this team."

As the Rays scout for homes in Pinellas, Hillsborough, and potentially elsewhere, Ferguson is starting something of a door-to-door campaign, asking people to sign the city's Baseball Forever petition and to shell out for season tickets.

"We don't want it to go to Hillsborough, this is the only way we can keep the team, we will build them a stadium, but we have to have fans going to the stadium."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he briefed meeting attendees on last month's talk with the commissioner,

"[I tried to] change his focus from looking at how the team has historically performed from an attendance and support standpoint, to what the future could be," he said.

Kriseman insisted Rays attendance could be better than dead last even if it stays in St. Pete. Last year, Tropicana Field averaged 15,800 fans, nearly 3,000 less than the 29th place A's.

He showed the commissioner a multi-use design for a new stadium.

"Look at what that master plan that is under development, what that site will do to this community, in particular around that stadium, think about ten years from now," said Kriseman.

But Hillsborough, and potentially others in the US and Canada are also thought to be readying designs to lure the Rays once the team is allowed to opt out in three years by paying St. Pete $30 million.

Business owners don't want St. Pete to lose its major league status.

"Folks from towns all over the country come and spend time in St. Pete," said Steve Westphal, the owner of 400 Beach. "I am fully aware of what they spend in our restaurants up and down Beach Dr and all over St. Petersburg."

The mayor could not say exactly when a formal pitch will be made to the Rays, but says it could even be before the start of the regular season. He says he communicates frequently with team officials.

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