Tampa Bay Rays ownership says they’ll sit down with Hillsborough County to discuss a new ballpark — even as St. Petersburg officials hint at legal action to keep the team at Tropicana Field.
Yesterday Hillsborough County commissioners voted 5-2 to invite the Rays ownership, as well as reps from St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, for a sit-down over a new Rays ballpark. Rays ownership accepted the offer, with Stuart Sternberg coming out in support of the effort, according to WTSP.com:
“Since 2008 we have suggested regional dialogue to ensure the successful future of MLB in the Tampa Bay region. We greatly appreciate the Hillsborough County Commission’s action today and look forward to the progress which this regional discussion can bring.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, whose position has been that the Rays are bound to play 15 more seasons at Tropicana Field until the lease expires in 2027, immediately took issue with the summit and said his city was already looking at legal action to stop it:
“We’ll just see how it works out. We have really good representation. I’m getting really good advice,” Foster told the TV station.
The team’s lease prohibits it from talking new ballpark with other municipalities. Hillsborough legal staff concluded the county would not be at risk if it entered into discussions with the Rays — since it was not a party to the lease, the county cannot be bound by it — but the Rays are and know that sitting down with Tampa officials would surely bring forth the ire of St. Pete officials and Foster, in particular. Then again, if a regional ballpark solution can be found that also pays off Tropicana Field bonds, St. Pete would be much less likely to prevail on legal claims that it was harmed by the loss of the Rays. In any case, it looks like legal action may be needed to resolve this issue — a fight that the Rays ownership seems resigned to fight.
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