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Hagan to seek legal opinion on whether he can chat with Tampa Bay Rays about team's future in the region



Ken Hagan says the stadium lease agreement between the city of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays doesn't prevent another government from engaging in talks with the team about its future in the region.

But to be sure, the Hillsborough County Commission chairman will ask permission from his fellow board members to have their attorney research the issue and report back. He'll make the request during the commission's regular meeting Wednesday.

Hagan says he informed St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster of his intentions during a meeting Monday. He would only say the discussion was "cordial," as per an agreement between the two to keep the substance of their conversation between them.

"I'm not an attorney," Hagan said. "That's why I want the county attorney to look into it and come back with the do's and don't. It's been stated that you cannot have any discussion. I do not believe the use agreement states that."

Hagan said from his reading, it's clear it would be problematic for other governments or private players to enter into negotiations with the team about relocating.

But he said he doesn't believe it prevents someone from talking to the team about ways to ensure the Rays remain in the region.

The Rays play at Tropicana Field near downtown St. Petersburg under an agreement that binds the team to the stadium until 2027. Team owners have said the Trop is not suitable for a major league baseball franchise and that they don't want to remain there through the remainder of the agreement. They want permission to look elsewhere, including Hillsborough County.

A private business group looked at the team's arrangement and concluded it needed a new stadium, ranking locations in Hillsborough among those that make better sense. Such an arena would be more centrally located to the region's population clusters and would likely enjoy more corporate support, the report from the ABC Coalition said.

That was more than two years ago, with little action since. Hagan has said that each year that goes by, the more leverage the team gains. The fewer years on the agreement, the less penalty the team likely would face to leave early.

"We've got to break this logjam one way or the other," Hagan said. "I don't believe that status quo is an option."

Foster has consistently said he expects the Rays to uphold their obligation under the lease. And a lawyer for the city has suggested that other governments or private interests who interfere with that agreement risk a lawsuit from the city.

Foster did not immediately return a call for comment.


[Last modified: Monday, April 16, 2012 5:54pm]


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