by JAKE NUTTING
At today’s press conference to officially announce the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational, principal owner reaffirmed his desire to massively expand the seating capacity at Al Lang Stadium.
Edwards’ comments on increasing the capacity from 7,000 to 18,500 should surprise no one. The St Petersburg mogul has said as much in the past and he’s also never been shy about his sky high ambitions for the organization.
What was noteworthy from today’s press conference is St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s revelation to saintpetersblog.com that the Rowdies and the city have already begun talking discussing the club’s long-term future in downtown St Petersburg.
“We’ve had conversations,” said Kriseman. “We’re definitely interested in seeing what we can put together. We love having the Rowdies here. He’s invested not only his money, but his heart and soul.”
There’s nothing earth-shattering or iron-clad in that quote, but it does clearly show the club’s has earned respect from city officials after its first year managing Al Lang Stadium.
Looking to avoid another protracted headache like with the Tampa Bay Rays stadium search, Kriseman is eager to dive into conversations sooner rather than later.
“We’ve got to try to put together a deal that works for the Rowdies and the taxpayers. We’re not going to wait until four years to have conversations. We’re already having them.”
The Rowdies reportedly injected $3 million worth in renovations to Al Lang last year, twice what the deal with the city that awarded them managing control of the facility required. Edwards has made good on his promise to to improve the rundown facility and attract non-soccer events to fill out the calendar. The stadium hosted an international Rugby tournament and an extreme sports exhibition late last year.
With some good will from the renovations and positive press from recruiting half a dozen MLS clubs to play preseason at the stadium next month, momentum seems to be on the side of Edwards and the Rowdies to start work on a deal for expansion.
Two major issues pop when considering the feasibility of this deal. Firstly, how does the team plan on fitting a facility with 18,500 seats on the relatively small footprint of Al Lang? And second, exactly how much money of his own money, if any, is Edwards willing to spend to get the job done? Public money on sports projects is getting harder and harder to secure these days.
Edwards only seems to be concerned about the latter issue.
“I plan on staying,” he insisted. “We’ve had talks with the city about an extension and expansion. We sold out seven games last year and came very close to the rest of them. Right here. We’ve got the footprint. It’s just a matter of finding the money to make it done.”
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES