A date has been set for members of the Tampa Bay Rays' management group to meet with Hillsborough County commissioners.
That face-to-face gathering will take place Jan. 24 during a regularly scheduled commission meeting, Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said. Hagan hopes to learn the Rays' long-term goals and whether they include Hillsborough County.
The plan was initially presented in August after Hagan approached the county's attorney to ensure Hillsborough County was not crossing any legal lines.
Both parties must be cautious because a contract between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg stipulates that the team must play at Tropicana Field through 2027. The agreement prohibits the Rays from negotiating the use of another facility or discussing the location for a new stadium.
Messages left for St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster were not returned.
Hagan said he will sit down this week with County Attorney Robert Brazel to pinpoint exactly what can and cannot be discussed during the meeting.
"We don't want to do anything to jeopardize the Rays' agreement with St. Pete or anything that could potentially put us in a legal quandary, if you will," Hagan said.
Several studies have suggested Tropicana Field has outlived its usefulness for Major League Baseball.
In September, a plan for a potential baseball stadium was unveiled for the Carillon area in Pinellas County – just over the Howard Franklin Bridge and off Ulmerton Road. Additionally, members of the Baseball Stadium Financing Caucasus, concluded a new stadium is economically feasible on either side of Tampa Bay.
Hagan admitted when he made the motion in August before the board of county commissioners he was unsure what the Rays' response would be.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg quickly agreed to meet.
"Since 2008, we have suggested a regional dialogue to ensure the successful future of (Major League Baseball) in the Tampa Bay Region," Sternberg said in an email to the Tribune in August. "We greatly appreciate the Hillsborough County Commission's action today and look forward to the progress which this regional discussion can bring."
In the end, Hagan said he just wants the team to remain within the confines of the Tampa Bay area.
"I initially brought this up three years ago and I did it for economic as well as quality of life reasons," Hagan said. "Whether you like the Rays or not, whether you like sports or not, when you have an economic engine – really a $200 (million) to $300 million a year economic engine – I think it's important for the political and business leaders to work in a regional fashion to ensure they remain in Tampa Bay."