Tampa Bay Rays move: Hillsborough County gets OK to talk to Rays about Tampa move

10:57 AM, Aug 2, 2012   |    comments
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An aerial view of Tropicana Field



St. Petersburg, Florida -- After lawyers told them there's no harm in talking about it, Hillsborough County commissioners started to discuss a Rays move to Tampa on Thursday.

The team wants out of Tropicana Field before its lease ends in 15 years. Many people in Hillsborough County want the team to play ball in Tampa.

But there's a catch... a couple of catches, really.

See Also: Continuing Coverage of the Rays' Stadium Saga

Thursday morning, Hillsborough County commissioners talked for the first time about an important piece of paper.

Hillsborough County's lawyers researched for months whether the county commissioners can legally talk with the Tampa Bay Rays about moving to Tampa.

In a document 10 News has obtained, the lawyers have given commissioners the green light to talk with the team.

Their reasoning is that Hillsborough County is not part of the big lease agreement between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg.

That agreement is the contract that's designed to keep the Rays playing at the Trop till 2027. So, Hillsborough County isn't part of the agreement, and that means they're able to talk.

Here's catch one: the Rays are part of the agreement. So there's no guarantee the Rays will talk back.

If they did talk, there's a chance the team could be at risk of getting sued, if they answer back to Hillsborough County's advances.

The other catch? The money. There's still no plan for how to come up with enough cash to build a $600 million stadium in Tampa.

After commissioners reviewed this legal advice at their Thursday morning meeting, they voted 5-2 to send a letter to the Rays asking the team to come to a future commission meeting and give a presentation about their future plans and intentions. Commissioners hope that will happen right after baseball season ends.

From there, commissioners hope to have a reasonable discussion about the future of the team. The Rays have not said whether they plan to come to a future Hillsborough County Commission meeting, but legally their choices may be limited.

In response to the county's legal opinion, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster told us the city has no interest in "damages" -- implying he wouldn't sue Hillsborough County.

But he also said, adamantly, he expects to have the team at the Trop through 2027.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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