Hillsborough County Commission votes to begin broad discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays

TAMPA, Fla. - The Hillsborough County Commission voted Thursday to begin discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Commissioner Ken Hagan told commissioners the Rays are languishing with poor fan attendance at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
 
Hagan said it's time to have a broad discussion with the team about their plans for the future and about keeping them here in the region.

Earlier in the week, the county attorney told commissioners would not violate the Rays' contract with St. Petersburg as long as the discussion remains broad and focused on the team's future plan.
 
"There's too much at stake to simply stand idly by," Hagan said.

Major league baseball teams like the Rays generate as much as $300 million in the local economy annually.

That's big money going to restaurants like 400 Beach in downtown St. Pete.

"We get a great crowd in here before the game no matter if it's locals or out of towers staying in local hotels," said Manager John Ruetz.

He says losing the team would be a big loss especially during the slow summers.

If the Rays agree to the public meeting with Hillsborough County, the board hopes to gauge the team's interest in a move across the bay.

"Hopefully this will allow us to start to break the log jam that has not moved in over three years," Hagan said.

Some commissioners recognize taking this action is a walking a fine line.

"How would we feel if Pinellas marched over here and started talking to the buccaneers because of a problem we were having with the bus?" said Commissioner Sandra Murman.

The two commissioners who voted no felt the talks should be more of a regional outreach that includes all the major parties including business and St. Pete leaders.

The Rays had no comment about the vote, but St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster did.

"That's not up to me," he said, when asked how he felt about the team speaking with Hillsborough County leaders. "The Rays are big boys -- they can do whatever they feel is in their best interest."

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