ST. PETERSBURG — At the opening Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer game Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium, the seats in front of Stacie King must have been red at one point, but they were now faded, the paint chipped.
Worse was that some wobbled and the backs had settled at odd angles.
Last year, King's friend, a season ticket holder who sat in front of her, endured more than half a season in a broken chair, King said. She complained to anyone who looked official, and King says they were only repaired when she flagged down the mayor at a game.
"They need to be fixed!" King recalled her friend shouting as Mayor Bill Foster walked past.
Last month, the Rowdies sent a letter to St. Petersburg officials complaining about the conditions of their home field. The letter mentioned an air-conditioning system that reeked of mold, a broken lawn mower, burnt-out scoreboard bulbs, broken seats and doubts that the field had been sprayed to prevent weeds.
"Has this been conducted as required?" the letter asked. "Evidence suggests not due to abundance of weeds. "
The Rowdies addressed their complaint letter to two people at the city, one of whom was Joseph Zeoli, the managing director for City Development Administration, which deals with the city's contract with the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, or SPBC, which is tasked with managing and maintaining the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex and Al Lang Stadium.
Zeoli forwarded the complaint to the SPBC, and in particular its director, Steve Nadel.
"This letter raised serious concerns about the operational readiness of Al Lang Stadium," Zeoli wrote.
But were repairs made in time for the Rowdies opener?
Despite repeated efforts by the Tampa Bay Times to reach both Zeoli and Nadel last week, neither responded.
The Rowdies said they first brought up serious concerns about the condition of the field, most notably water leaks, in September 2013.
"All of which were rebuffed by SPBC," the complaint stated.
Zeoli wrote back to the Rowdies and urged them and the SPBC to meet and discuss the complaints. This did not happen, a spokesman for the city said, but Rowdies controlling share holder and local businessman Bill Edwards is scheduled next week to meet with the mayor. Edwards declined to comment for this article.
Ted Solomon, 47, of Pinellas Park said Saturday he didn't think much about the condition of the stadium. When asked about the generally decrepit form of the chairs, he looked down. "Well, it's a seat. I'm just happy to be sitting," he said.
Jamie and Gordon Hall, both 29 and of St. Petersburg, looked out at the playing field. "You can definitely tell the field isn't, uh, even," Gordon said.
He was talking about the lumpy, sallow-looking sod that had been placed over the baseball field.
The city has a budget of $100,000 a year to maintain things in the stadium like air conditioning, the sound system and the main concourses. And while Zeoli and Nadel would not return calls for this article, they did previously speak with a Times reporter.
At the time, Zeoli said the city's budget might be too small to take care of the renovations. And Nadel said that the complaints in the letter were false.
"SPBC in its agreements with Rowdies is meeting and exceeding all of our obligations," he previously told the Times.
Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321