TAMPA - St. Petersburg is playing hardball when it comes to the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. The city attorney has warned Hillsborough County that it will consider a lawsuit if leaders move forward and meet with the team.
In a letter, St. Petersburg attorney John Wolfe wrote that the city is prepared "to protect our relationship and rights against any attempted interference." Wolfe also said "it is our hope… that any litigation against anyone personally or any governmental entity may be avoided."
The threat of a lawsuit hasn't intimidated Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan. He said a meeting with Rays management in the next couple of months is still on.
"We're moving forward as planned," Hagan said. Hillsborough invited the Rays for a sit-down discussion about possible future sites for a new ballpark.
"We are on firm ground to have general discussions with the Rays on their long term plans, goals, vision," Hagan said. The commissioner added that while he agrees with St. Petersburg's contention that a full blown negotiation to move the Rays would be a violation of the team's contract, a discussion about the future is not.
"Simply having a conversation does not meet that threshold," Hagan said.
St. Petersburg has shown growing sensitivity about the future of the Rays, even though the city has a contract that requires the team to play its games in Tropicana Field until 2027. Hillsborough County and Pinellas County have both shown interest in providing alternative locations for the major league team.
"One thing's for certain: They're not going to remain at the Trop until 2027," Hagan said. "Anyone who feels that way is being extremely short sighted."
Proposed locations for a new stadium have included Carillon and the old Toytown landfill area in Pinellas County. Channelside and the fairgrounds have been tossed out as ideas for Hillsborough.
Hagan denied that a discussion with the Rays is an attempt to steal the team from St. Petersburg. On the contrary, he said it's a responsible attempt to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay. Hagan said he would consider sites in Pinellas County if it prevented the Rays from leaving Florida entirely.
"I don't want to see them be the Charlotte Rays, or the Las Vegas Rays, or the San Antonio Rays," Hagan said.
"I want them to remain in Tampa Bay, and having a conversation is the first step to insure that."
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