Rowdies talk new home in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - The Tampa Bay Rays aren't the only local team thinking about a new stadium.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards confirmed to 10 News on Friday that he'd like to see a new, 18,000-20,000-seat stadium on St. Petersburg's waterfront, although his immediate priority is getting the team's current home, Al Lang Stadium, up to league standards.

As first detailed last week in the Shadow of the Stadium sports business blog, Edwards started putting the wheels in motion for a new stadium by successfully lobbying the state legislature to include the minor-league North American Soccer League (NASL) in groups eligible for state stadium subsidies. Previously, only the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB were eligible for the $2 million annual stadium subsidies.

But on Friday, Edwards acknowledged the state subsidies -- which will now be approved by the governor's Department of Economic Opportunity, rather than the legislature -- were on the table for a potential new St. Petersburg soccer stadium.

"I'd love to see them -- see us -- find a way to build a stadium on the waterfront that holds 18-to-20,000 people," Edwards said of a possible Al Lang replacement. "It would be a great place to see a soccer game, concerts, field hockey, let college play lacrosse, and lots of things that could happen in that place that would be great for downtown."

Edwards says the team cannot play another season at Al Lang without leveling the pitch and re-sodding. He says he'll put up the $123,000 needed for the work if St. Petersburg will end its 67-year history of playing baseball there.

"We've got probably the worst field in the country as far as the league is concerned," Edwards said, attributing the bumpy pitch and dead grass to baseball.

Edwards added that leaks and mold plague the clubhouse, while more than 900 seats are not usable.

If St. Petersburg doesn't fix the major problems at Al Lang, Edwards said he may take the team to Tampa as soon as this fall, although he didn't have a specific venue in mind.

"I'm not asking to move, I'm fighting to stay," Edwards said of St. Petersburg.

The mere mention of "Tampa" is likely to trigger an emotional response from a region that's played tug-of-war for years over institutions like the Buccaneers, Rays, and the international airport.

But Edwards sees St. Petersburg as his long-term home and would like to get a new stadium built on the current site of Al Lang. And he thinks he can get it done for a tenth of the cost of a new baseball stadium.

"I'm not one of those guys that thinks you have to spend $200 million on a stadium," Edwards said. "I think somewhere between $30 and $60 million would build you a tremendously beautiful stadium."

Edwards believes the team could qualify for state tax dollars after the passage of a new stadium subsidy bill, but he wouldn't speculate as to whether city or county tax dollars would come into play too. The possibility could seemingly put the Rowdies at-odds with the Tampa Bay Rays, who are also presumed to be seeking local tax revenues for a new stadium, albiet in Tampa, preferably.

Mayor Rick Kriseman told 10 News that a soccer-only stadium wasn't practical in Downtown St. Petersburg, but a multi-use stadium may be more cost-efficient than renovating Al Lang.

"How much do we invest in (Al Lang) to keep it functioning," Kriseman asked rhetorically. "(We may) cross that line where it may not make sense anymore if we're going to rebuild it."

Edwards said other teams and sports could share the facility, but not baseball.

Edwards also wouldn't speculate whether entering Major League Soccer (MLS), the United State's top soccer league, was in his plans saying he liked the direction the NASL was going.

Find 10 Investigates reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.


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