Hillsborough County took a smart step for the entire region Thursday by moving to initiate talks on a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. County commissioners voted 5-2 to support commission Chairman Ken Hagan's sensible, two-step approach.
Hillsborough will invite the Rays to appear before the board to discuss in broad terms the team's plans and its requirements for a ballpark. After that, the county would gather public and private leaders throughout the region to another public session to develop a strategy.
Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Al Higginbotham voted against the plan and expressed concerns that Hillsborough could be seen as maneuvering against St. Petersburg, which has a lease with the Rays to play in Tropicana Field until 2027. But Hagan's course is inclusive and measured. This fact-finding mission could serve as a road map for a broader conversation involving the entire region. Hillsborough would invite the Rays to appear after the season ends in October, and then convene a meeting with the mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa, Pinellas commissioners and the chambers of commerce from both sides of the bay.
Several commissioners properly recognized the value and civic pride the Rays bring to St. Petersburg. In an ideal world, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster would be leading the public discussion. But Foster refuses to let the Rays evaluate stadium options in both Pinellas and Hillsborough, and the standoff with the team is not helpful. The Rays are a regional asset, and it is time to start that public conversation about ensuring that Major League Baseball remains in Tampa Bay.