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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Spring referendum for Rowdies MLS bid?

23

December

The Tampa Bay Rowdies want to make the jump to Major League Soccer. 

And Darden Rice is ready to help. The St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman has scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting to discuss scheduling a spring referendum that would authorize the city to negotiate a 20-year or more lease agreement with Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for the waterfront Al Lang Stadium.

Edwards current lease for Al Lang expires in 2018. The proposed new lease would be contingent on the Rowdies being selected as an MLS expansion team. 

If council agrees, the referendum would take place in late April or early May. Edwards will reimburse the city for the estimated $250,000 cost of administering the special election, Rice said.

And reminiscent of former St. Petersburg franchise dramas (St. Pete Rays, anyone?), the possibility might emerge for the Sunshine City to have a franchise named after itself, not a body of water. 

"An intriguing thought for the council to think about ---stipulate the team be named for St. Pete," Rice said Friday.

Notice requirements for nearby property owners means that council wouldn't formally consider the referendum until February.

Earlier this month, Edwards announced his intention to vault the Rowdies into American soccer's premier league. Last year, a similar referendum had been contemplated before being scuttled after Orlando City FC asserted its rights to Tampa Bay's market. 

Orlando City didn't respond this week to a request for comment about if it would be willing to give up those rights and for what price.

Earlier this month, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced an expansion fee of $150 million for each of two franchises  selected to begin play by 2020. The league eventually plans to expand to 28 teams.

So far, prospective owners in 9 other cities have shown public interest: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio and San Diego. 

Interested parties must submit applications by Jan. 31, 2017, according to an MLS news release earlier this month.

Rice said she understands the MLS will decide on its expansion picks by spring, one reason for the expedited schedule for the referendum.

Landing an MLS franchise would be a big plus for the city, said Rice, a longtime Rowdies season ticket holder and self-described "serious fan." 

""For St. Pete to land an MLS soccer team is huge. It is undoubtedly positive for our city. Improving the run down Al Lang Stadium for better use is in line with the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan that the community has poured over and discussed. We heard the exciting announcement weeks ago that the Rowdies were seeking MLS status. This referendum would authorize the city to negotiate a longer lease at Al Lang. Then council would still have discretion to discuss and approve that. And all of this is contingent strictly upon Edwards getting an MLS agreement. It absolutely would not extend to a lease extension for anything else.  This is a great opportunity," she said in a text message to the Times. 

 

[Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2016 1:33pm]

    

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