With a referendum likely to take place in the spring, the Tampa Bay Rowdies are looking to build support for their renovation to Al Lang Stadium.
Unveiled by the Rowdies and owner Bill Edwards in December, the proposal calls for Al Lang Stadium to be renovated into an MLS-caliber facility. Shortly after that plan was revealed, the MLS confirmed that St. Petersburg is one of 10 candidates for the league’s upcoming rounds of expansion.
While the renovations are slated to be privately financed, the project still requires voter approval because the City of St. Petersburg will need to enter into a 20-year agreement with the Rowdies to use the site. At the end of December, officials indicated that they would be meeting early this year with the intention of having a referendum in place for a spring vote.
What is being put forth by the Rowdies is not the first major proposal for the Al Lang Stadium site. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays–who once used Al Lang Stadium for spring training–began to build momentum toward a new ballpark at the site. However, public backlash mounted against the proposal, prompting the Rays and St. Petersburg to scrap it entirely rather than subject it to a referendum.
For right now, St. Persburg officials believe that the Rowdies’ proposal will meet a different fate. Aside from its use of private funds, the Rowdies can offer something that the Rays could not: a facility with a smaller footprint and therefore a smaller environmental impact. More from The Tampa Bay Times:
“Nothing’s changed. It’s a different plan. My plan fits the footprint of the ballpark. It doesn’t extend out anywhere,” said Edwards, who owns Rowdies and wants to join the United States’ premier professional soccer league.
The Rays’ plans would have impacted Bayshore Drive and involved dredging in Tampa Bay to extend the site into the water, Mayor Rick Kriseman said.
The environmental issues involved with dredging and the concerns about accommodating parking for up to 34,000 fans drove the opposition in 2008, he said.
But the Rowdies stadium capacity would be about 18,000, and the structure would be no taller than the neighboring Mahaffey Theater, which Edwards also operates. That translates into smaller crowds and fewer parking issues, Kriseman said.
Edwards, and former mayor Rick Baker, who is president of the Edwards Group, learned from the Rays’ mistakes, Kriseman said.
The size of the facility proposed by the Rays was relatively small among ballparks, with a capacity of about 35,000. However, the considerably smaller size of an MLS venue–and the plan’s more modest footprint–is something that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg officials could emphasize in their push for the renovations.
Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies.
RELATED STORIES: Al Lang Stadium Agreement Could Have Spring Referendum; Tampa Bay Rowdies Unveil Al Lang Stadium Renovation, MLS Campaign; Al Lang Stadium Renovation Talks Back at the Forefront; St. Pete Holds Off On Al Lang Stadium Upgrades