As the Tampa Bay Rowdies prepare for a “historic announcement,” many are wondering if Al Lang Stadium renovations are back on the table.
Earlier this year, the Rowdies and owner Bill Edwards pursued renovations to Al Lang Stadium, which would bring the former baseball spring training facility in line with modern soccer venues. That proposal was put on the back burner this spring, when talk of the renovations and a long-term lease for the facility was put on hold.
One of the reasons it that renovation talks were believed to have been scratched was the use of public money. Pinellas County tourism tax dollars were eyed for Al Lang Stadium improvements, but with county officials pursuing a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays, it seemed unlikely that those funds would be available for the Rowdies. The situation with the Rays has still not been resolved, leaving that revenue source in doubt.
The Rowdies may have found a way around this, perhaps by using another funding source or kicking in a greater private contribution. Even if the renovations are privately financed, however, a long-term lease for the use of Al Lang Stadium will still require voter approval.
Some have wondered if the Rowdies’ push for renovations could be boosted if the team moved up to the MLS, a move that would be challenging given the territorial issues with Orlando City SC. The question is, without the guarantee of an MLS franchise, would voters be willing to sign off on a long-term lease? More from the Tampa Bay Times:
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he has not had recent conversations with Edwards about stadium renovations, but encourages trying for the larger league.
“Soccer is a great sport, and we love having the Rowdies here,” Kriseman said. “If they have an opportunity to be an MLS franchise, I would think residents would embrace that idea.”
That’s what makes the issue complicated:
None of the components seem to work on their own.
Getting to MLS will be an expensive proposition for Edwards, which means he’s going to need more fans. Renovating the stadium could help with fans, but that’s going to take at least a 20-year lease, which is going to require the referendum.
It remains to be seen what next week’s announcement will bring, but Al Lang Stadium is still a viable candidate for a renovation plan. The Rowdies have already made one big in recent months, as they announced their change in leagues from the NASL to the USL in October.
Image courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.
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