The vote was 5-2, with Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Al Higginbotham dissenting, but even those who supported the motion appeared concerned about what the vote might mean for relations with the local governments in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
The Rays have a lease to play at Tropicana Field until 2027, but their management has said often that they don't intend to honor that lease, and have the backing of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in their pursuit of a better stadium situation.
St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster has been steadfast in saying that the Rays need to honor their contract,and St. Pete City Attorney John Wolfe has liberally thrown out the term "tortious interference" as a way to make other local governments back off from speaking to the baseball team.
But Hillsborough County attorney Robert Brazel said Thursday that the worst thing that could happen if the board sends a letter to Rays owner Stu Sternberg inviting them to speak in Tampa would be a lawsuit filed by the city of St. Petersburg preventing them from doing so.
Hagan said the talk of threatening lawsuits was only chilling dialogue that could possibly create a solution to what the Rays are looking for, and he said the ultimate motivation was not that the Rays would decide to move to Hillsborough County, but that possible solutions to them somewhere in the Bay area could be addressed.
"There's too much at stake when we're talking about an economic engine of $200-$300 million a year ..I think it's incumbent for elecetd officials to do everything they can to keep this going," Hagan said about creating a dialogue with the MLB team.
He also said he has no idea if the Rays would welcome the invitation to talk.
Although Mayor Foster has said the city would sue if the Rays were to break their lease, Hillsborough attorney Robert Brazel mentioned that sports franchises that have moved over the decades (such as the Rams and Raiders leaving Los Angeles and Oakland and the Colts leaving Baltimore), in none of those cases, he said, did the team pay the city they left compensatory damages.
There are no plans at all for a new stadium to be constructed in Tampa Bay at the moment, and no plans for the financing of a structure would cost in the ballpark of approximately $600 million. Rays management has said in the past that they would be willing to pay for one-third of that cost. Ken Hagan emphasized that he wasn't talking about a tax-payer funded stadium in the county - that the conversation was just a way to unlock the current situation, which is essentially stuck in neutral.
Although Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Sandy Murman supported Hagan's motion, they both expressed some ambivalence about how even inviting the Rays to speak could be considered an invasion of a local government's domain.
"How would we feel if Pinellas came over here and talked to the Bucs?," Murman asked.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last discussed the Rays stadium situation back in April. He said then that "They need a new ballpark, there's no question," saying that Stu Sternberg was doing what "he should do."
Sternberg spoke critically about the lack of support in St. Petersburg after the Rays were eliminated from the playoffs last fall, falling to the Texas Rangers with plenty of empty seats at the Trop. The team hasn't done much better in attendance this season, hovering around 29th out of the 30 teams in total home attendance for much of 2012.