Pinellas County to talk to Tampa Bay Rays about a new stadium next month

Published Dec. 21, 2012

The Pinellas County Commission has set a tentative date of Jan. 29 to talk publicly with the Tampa Bay Rays about stadium issues, incoming chairman Ken Welch said Thursday.

The idea of inviting the team for a public question-and-answer session has been in the works for months. It is an extension of informal discussions the Rays have held from time to time with individual commissioners.

Welch said he and Rays representatives set the date over coffee Wednesday. Rays officials were not completely sure that all their key representatives could attend. If not, the meeting will be pushed back to February, Welch said.

Pinellas County's hotel tax, which the commission controls, helped finance Tropicana Field and might factor into any new stadium, as well.

"As a major partner with the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg, we feel like having a dialogue," Welch said. Possible discussion issues would include the county's role in any new stadium project and the Rays' "timetable in terms of them being able to remain in the bay area."

The commission also will invite St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council to the meeting, Welch said.

The Rays have said the Trop is not economically viable for major-league baseball, even though their contract to play there extends through 2027.

"The commission consensus is that we need this conversation to move forward," Welch said.

The Hillsborough County Commission also voted to invite the Rays to a meeting for a public talk, but no date has been set.

The Rays, as is their practice, declined to comment publicly.