A referendum in St. Petersburg ended with a favorable result for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who received voter approval to continue their pursuit of an Al Lang Stadium expansion.
A special election on Tuesday concerned the status of an Al Lang Stadium renovation that, as proposed, would bring the facility to MLS standards. While Rowdies owner Bill Edwards has pledged private funding for the $80 million expansion, St. Petersburg still needed the approval of voters to negotiate a long-term lease with the team at the city-owned waterfront site.
Approval of the ballot measure does not guarantee that MLS is coming to St. Petersburg. After the city signs off on the election results, it will still need to work with the Rowdies to finalize their lease, and it remains to be seen whether the proposed Al Lang Stadium expansion will ultimately sway the league to select the Tampa Bay area out of a field of 12 contenders for four expansion slots. Still, even in the face of low participation among voters, the overwhelming response in favor moving the plan forward is a point of celebration for officials. More from The Tampa Bay Times:
A jubilant Rick Baker, a former mayor widely expected to challenge incumbent Rick Kriseman, told a green-and-yellow clad crowd that the 87 to 13 percentage point victory was a sign the city deserves an expansion franchise.
“This was a statement from the people of St. Petersburg,” Baker told about 350 people gathered at Al Lang Stadium. “We know we have the coolest downtown in the Southeast. We want to widen that gap.”
It was a statement made by less than 20 percent of eligible voters. Just over 28,000 votes were cast, nearly 90 percent by mail.
Still, said Kriseman, who shared the stage with his probable rival, the numbers don’t lie.
“When you see a margin like this?” he said. “It’s tough to beat that.”
Leading up to the election, approval was expected, as the proposal was not subject to significant opposition. The expansion of Al Lang Stadium will ultimately be contingent on MLS selecting Tampa Bay as an expansion market.
RELATED STORIES: Voters to Weigh in on Al Lang Stadium Proposal; Tampa Bay Rowdies Look for Public Support; Al Lang Stadium Referendum Set for May 2; Al Lang Stadium Project Moves Closer to Referendum; City Council to Decide on Al Lang Stadium Referendum; St. Petersburg Mayor Meets with MLS; St. Petersburg Discusses Al Lang Stadium Proposal; Al Lang Stadium Plan Vying for Support; 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