Friday, May 9, 2014

Tampa Bay Rowdies Eyeing New Stadium, Subsidies

The Tampa Bay Rays aren't the only local team with stadium demands.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards confirmed Friday 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 detailed last week in a Shadow of the Stadium post, Edwards started putting the wheels in motion in March 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-thousand people," Edwards said of a possible Al Lang replacement.

It wasn't clear if the slip of the tongue on "us" was a reference to St. Petersburg, although he indicated a preference for publicly-owned (and financed) venues.

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," he 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 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.

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.


  1. Why doesn't the Rowdies lease the in-the-AC Trop OR RayJ instead?

  2. I'd be trying to go all in on the MLS action if I were Edwards. Don Garber is handing out teams left and right. Why not try to get in on the action while it's hot?

    1. For exactly the reason in your statement. "Garber is handing out teams left and right." He has no plan and MLS has suffered historically for plopping teams in places they have no following. The Rowdies fan base is growing but now is not the time and MLS wiht its current leadership is not the leagues. The NASL recognizes existing fan bases and tries to grow them grass roots style. The Rowdies are a great example.

  3. The Rowdies in my opinion belong in their own soccer specific stadium. My personal preference would be a central location in Tampa, Ybor for example, but St.Pete would lose out if the team moved, not the other way around.

    1. I'm in complete agreement with everything you've stated. Ybor City in Tampa would be a perfect location (near the Interstate & the Crosstown for easy access.) Plus, nearby pubs and cafe's in Ybor on 7th would be a plus.

    2. "St.Pete would lose out if the team moved, not the other way around."

      In what way does St. Pete lose? While I acknowledge that on game nights, Rowdies fans bring a definite "buzz" to the neighborhood, I don't know how you put a dollar figure on "buzz."

      But I do remember all the bars along Central Avenue and the restaurants along Beach Drive were filled with people long before the Rowdies showed up. I suspect they'll still be filled with people should the Rowdies ever move.

    3. You are looking at it now, as things are, and not as they would be with a 20k seat stadium and a significantly increased Rowdies fan base, plus the other events the stadium would host which also bring people into downtown St. Pete.

    4. I respect your opinion Speedcake, however I'm not certain the expense (and ongoing maintenance costs) of such a facility is offset by whatever economic impact such a facility brings with it. Most studies seem to suggest they do not. Not to mention the question of whether using valuable waterfront property for such a purpose makes any sense at all. To say nothing of the propriety of using taxpayer funds to subsidize a private business.

      Anyway, bringing people into downtown St. Pete is not a problem that needs to be solved. They are coming in droves now, with or without the Rowdies. The thousand plus housing units currently being built downtown will only add more. Throw in some light rail to move people around, and we are moving toward world-class status (in my opinion.)

      I also look at the burgeoning restaurant and arts scene in both the Edge District as well as the Grand Central/Kenwood sections along Central Avenue, and none of it has anything to do with its proximity to the Trop. The Trop could disappear tomorrow, and those districts and businesses would continue to thrive.

      Don't get me wrong, I like the Rowdies and like they are in St. Pete. Perhaps something can be worked out. But complaining about the stadium after only five months of ownership, and threats to move them to Tampa (and all the buttons that sort of threat pushes) is outrageous. For myself, I am more than happy to call his bluff. Best of luck to him.