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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Rowdies owner wants to stay, but he has concerns


Published:   |   Updated: May 10, 2014 at 08:32 AM

— If Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards gets his way, the baseball diamond at Al Lang Stadium will be a thing of the past.

Edwards has offered to pay $132,000 to install a permanent soccer field at city-owned Al Lang Stadium.

But if the city turns him down and the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission won’t improve what he calls “substandard” conditions at the stadium, Edwards may take the team elsewhere next year, the business magnate told media at his downtown office Friday.

“I’m not threatening to move. I’m asking to stay. I’m begging the city to help me stay here,” he said, noting he might consider moving the Rowdies to Tampa.

The North American Soccer League has been pressuring the Rowdies to bring the field up to professional standards, Edwards said, adding that responsibility falls to the city and the nonprofit St. Petersburg Baseball Commission that manages the facility.

When the Rowdies aren’t playing, the stadium serves a dual purpose of hosting international baseball games, which Edwards says is incompatible with maintaining a professional soccer field.

Edwards said he would put up the money to level the field and revamp it for soccer, as soon as this summer, but that would mean the end of a 100-year tradition of playing baseball at Al Lang and its predecessors.

“I’d be willing to pay out of my pocket to level that field. I don’t think they’re going to do that,” he said.

“I don’t think they’re going to take that opportunity because they want to play baseball.”

City officials said they are taking steps to address the Rowdies’ complaints about the field. They have hired a field-turf expert and have asked for estimates for resodding the entire field, which could then still be converted back to baseball after the Rowdies season is over, said Joe Zeoli, managing director of the city development administration.

Along with other planned maintenance, the cost of that could exceed the $100,000 the city allocates every year for repair and maintenance at Al Lang and the Walter Fuller Complex, which the baseball commission also runs.

The city would then have to ask City Council for additional funds.

The baseball commission has a contract to run Al Lang through 2016 that includes hosting baseball games.

“We have to look at that with an eye that we’re not tripping over the baseball commission that has the rights to that,” Zeoli said.

Edwards strategy is part of a longer term plan to see the city invest in a new pro soccer stadium that could seat 18,000 to 20,000 people for waterfront matches, concerts and other events.

He made mention of a recent change in state law that will allow tax dollars to be used for sports facilities as a possible source of revenue.

Edwards held the unscheduled news conference Friday following the opening of the first tenant in his Sundial shopping complex.

His critical statements toward the city and the baseball commission followed news that Edwards wants to bid on the contract to manage Walter Fuller. The baseball commission’s contract to run the sports park complex in west St. Petersburg expires at the end of September.

 

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

Twitter: @jboatwrightlTBO

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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