ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is proposing a $250,000 upgrade of the field at Al Lang Stadium following complaints from Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards that the unlevel field is dangerous for players.
Kriseman also is recommending that Edwards be allowed to bid on a contract to manage the Walter Fuller Complex, a sports park in the west of the city. The park and Al Lang are operated by the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, a nonprofit group that has clashed with Edwards about its running of the city-owned stadium.
If approved by the city council, a new field would only be a partial victory for Edwards, who recently offered to pay $132,000 for a new permanent soccer field with the condition the field no longer be used for baseball. Several years of switching between the sports has left the field uneven and prompted complaints from the North American Soccer League, said Edwards, who has warned that he may relocate the team if the stadium is not improved.
The city’s plan would mean the stadium still can host baseball during the winter and spring, but make it easier to convert the field. Instead of the clay infield, base running paths will be grass with clay cutouts around bases and the pitcher’s mound, said Joe Zeoli, managing director of the city development administration.
“Everything will be leveled — it will benefit both soccer and baseball as we go forward,” he said.
Funding would come from money allocated for park improvements from the city’s downtown Tax Increment Financing district.
Work would commence June 8, when the Rowdies have a midseason break. It would have to be completed by July 6, when the team’s season resumes with an exhibition match scheduled against Orlando City.
The city council at its meeting Thursday will also consider Kriseman’s proposal to allow Edwards and others to bid for the contract to operate Walter Fuller.
Baseball commission officials say Edwards’ interest in the facility is merely a first step toward wresting control of Al Lang away from the nonprofit group.
They are asking the city to extend the contract to manage Walter Fuller to 2016, the same year its Al Lang contract expires.
The group took over running both sports facilities in 2010. The city pays no money to the group but pays $200,000 for repairs, maintenance and utility costs of the two facilities. Prior to that, the facilities were used by the Tampa Bay Rays for spring training and required a $1 million annual subsidy.
The baseball commission makes its money from rental of fields and concession sales, including those at Rowdies games.
Kriseman said it was in taxpayers’ interest to look at what other providers could do with the park.
With the contract expiring at the end of September, baseball commission Director Steve Nadel said a better idea would be to extend the current contract for two years, by which time the city’s downtown waterfront master plan will be completed and long-term decisions about both facilities can be made.
“Now, it expires in four months and there are people’s jobs at stake and tourism business at stake,” he said.