News

Rowdies Seeking to Extend Al Lang Lease in Lead Up to Proposed Stadium Expansion

by JAKE NUTTING

A brief but nonetheless noisy storm broke out in the world of Rowdies social media on Tuesday when Fox 13’s Steve Nichols posted this tantalizing tweet.

That gets the juices flwoing, am I right? Well it turns out Nichols’ framing of today’s development was off base. The referendum he referred to actually would specifically deal with the issue of the city extending the four-year lease agreement that club owner Bill Edwards signed late in 2014 to manage Al Lang. St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was quick to jump into the fray to clear up the error.

That of course raises the question, why does an extension to the lease agreement for managing control of Al Lang Stadium suddenly need to be decided on in a public referendum? It turns out that the St Petersburg city charter requires leases over four years long for any waterfront property to be voted on by the public. The deadline to officially get the Al Lang lease agreement referendum on the November ballot is August 23.

Sounds like dry legal details, but Kriseman and the Rowdies moving to get a new lease agreement up for a Novemeber referendum is still an encouraging sign for those eager to see expansion at Al Lang.

The plain truth is that the Rowdies are only going to dive into a massive stadium expansion if they can secure a lease that will ensure they have a long-term future as the primary tenants of Al Lang. Four years or less simply is not enough to get the Rowdies to make that commitment. On top of that, the city isn’t likely to jump into bed with a partner they’re not sure will stick around 10 years down the road — especially not after the will they or won’t they debacle of the Tampa Bay Rays stadium search.

Nichols followed up his tweets with a report on Fox 13’s 6 pm broadcast that focused almost entirely on the issue of financing for the stadium. The report used a quote Bill Edwards gave a few months back stating that the club’s expansion plans could total around $70 million.

How the proposed project gets funded will no doubt be a hotly discussed topic. At the moment, though, it has not been confirmed if any potential public financing for the project will require a public referendum, or even how much local money Edwards hopes to secure. He’s admitted in the past that he’s hopeful the club will gain at least some funding on the state level.

The Unused Substitutes reached out to the Rowdies for comment on today’s news and COO Lee Cohen provided the following comment:

“From our standpoint, we feel that the city of St Petersburg and where we’re at in Al Lang is a great location for soccer to grow. It’s a great area and a thriving area, there’s a lot of success there. We feel like an expansion to a proper stadium and proper facility could lend itself to be the great flagship cornerstone piece of downtown… It’s not just an important project for the Rowdies or for the sport. It’s important for the city of St. Petersburg because it adds another piece to an already up and coming city.”

To sum up, today’s development is a necessary and vital step if the Rowdies have any shot of their dream of Al Lang Stadium ever becoming an 18,000 seat stadium materializing.

Jake Nutting
Writer at Large for The Unused Substitutes and NASL Beat Writer for Empire of Soccer. Fullbacks are people too.