A crucial decision on the Al Lang Stadium renovation proposal could be made Thursday, when the St. Petersburg City Council will decide whether to authorize a voter referendum.
If the plan moves forward, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards will privately finance an $80 million renovation of Al Lang Stadium to accommodate an MLS expansion franchise. Edwards and the Rowdies are among the 12 entities in the mix for entry to the league.
One of the most important steps in the process could be a voter referendum, which the St. Petersburg City Council will consider on Thursday. Voter approval is needed in order for the city to move forward with signing a longterm deal with the Rowdies, as Edwards is proposing a lease agreement that could last as long as 25 years.
The referendum would be financed by Edwards as part of a special election on May 2. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board, which has written in favor of authorizing the referendum, details the steps that await the city and the Rowdies:
Should the referendum be approved by the voters, and should Edwards succeed in luring Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg, the long-term agreement between the team and the city will be another significant issue. Six of the eight council members, not just a simple majority, would have to approve the agreement, another good safeguard. That document should lay out what would happen to the site if the Rowdies were to be sold or the team tried to leave town. The stadium design also would have to be approved. As this process moves forward, those questions should be answered transparently for the public.
An MLS soccer franchise playing in a sparkling new stadium in downtown St. Petersburg would be a valuable addition to the city. Holding a referendum in May is a short timetable for voters to take the first step toward Edwards’ ambitious vision to remake Al Lang Stadium into a first-class home field for an MLS franchise. Normally, this could wait until city elections in August, but Major League Soccer’s schedule requires moving quickly. Putting the issue on the ballot is a show of good faith with no risk to taxpayers, and the City Council should allow the referendum to go forward and let Edwards make his pitch to voters.
Any agreement will contingent on the Rowdies securing entry into the MLS. Edwards first unveiled his proposal in December, and was confirmed shortly thereafter to be one of the candidates for MLS expansion.
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