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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Edwards wants an MLS team for St. Pete, council chairwoman says



Does Bill Edwards want an Major League Soccer team or not? 

That’s the question underlying Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to put a lease extension over Al Lang Stadium on the November ballot.

Edwards told Kriseman he wants an MLS team and needs to expand the historic stadium to lure a team. 

At least that’s what City Council chairwoman Amy Foster said Kriseman told her in a meeting last week.

And what Edwards has told her and other council members previously, Foster said.

“That’s what Bill Edwards wants,” she said Thursday. “Kriseman mentioned that Bill Edwards wants to go after MLS. Bill Edwards has told us all that before as well.” 

That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Shortly after buying the team in 2014, Edwards told the Tampa Bay Times that joining the MLS was a “no-brainer” and that St. Petersburg would be the “perfect place” for the U.S’s premier soccer league expand.

 But, on Wednesday, Orlando City, the wildly popular, newly-awarded MLS franschise, told the Times they enjoyed exclusive MLS rights over Tampa Bay.

Any discussion of a new MLS franchise would have to include Orlando City, a team officials said. And no one--not MLS, the city or the Rowdies had inquired, he said.

In response to that Bay Buzz item, Edwards said Thursday any discussion of joining the MLS was “premature and not part of our present plans.”

In the statement, Edwards praised the North American Soccer League, the second-tier league in which the Rowdies now compete, and said he was confident that the NASL will continue to grow and prosper.

Kriseman has reached “similar conclusions,” Edwards said.

“Our mutual objective is to obtain a long term lease for Al Lang Stadium in order to ensure that the Rowdies have the opportunity to grow and succeed in St. Pete,” the statement read.

So why would Edwards want up to $70 million to expand the stadium, perhaps up to 18,000 seats that he has told the Times he wants?

And why would he tell Kriseman and council members that he wanted to pursue an MLS team?

That remains unclear. Edwards hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

The Kriseman administration has been talking to Dunedin and Clearwater about jointly asking the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council for bed tax money for their respective needs: an expansion of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a new Blue Jays spring training facility and Al Lang, Foster said.

She said the request wouldn’t interfere with bed tax money that might be needed for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in Pinellas County because one-cent has already been reserved for that purpose. The combined request for Al Lang, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Blue Jays facility would come from a “different pot” of tourist bed tax money, she said.

The terms and length of the Al Lang lease are still being negotiated, said Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby.

The question must go before voters because the City Charter requires most lease extensions to be presented as a referendum.

In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays gave up on plans to build a stadium on the Al Lang site after resident opposition.

Council member Karl Nurse says he isn’t enthusiastic about expanding Al Lang for soccer, especially minor-league soccer.
“For the last 40 years, soccer was supposed to be the next big thing,” he said.

The City Council must approve any referedum before an Aug. 23 deadline, City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch told council members on Thursday.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2016 5:20pm]


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