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Bill Edwards sues baseball commission over Al Lang Stadium

Bill Edwards also says he has been cheated on ticket sales.
Published Jul. 3, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The fight between businessman Bill Edwards and the nonprofit St. Petersburg Baseball Commission over a popular downtown sports facility could be headed for a courtroom.

Edwards filed a lawsuit against the baseball commission on Wednesday over Al Lang Stadium, the home turf for Edwards' Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer franchise.

Edwards has spent months clashing with the baseball commission and the city over conditions at the downtown facility.

In the complaint, Edwards says not only has the baseball commission not kept up its end of a license agreement when it comes to maintenance, but also implies the commission may be shortchanging the soccer team on ticket sales.

Edwards, who could not be reached for comment, is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.

Jeffrey Adams, an attorney for the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, said problems didn't start until after Edwards bought the team in December.

"It's unfortunate that it's come to this," he said. "Until the change in ownership, everything was fine. From the very beginning, (new ownership) indicated they didn't like the contract and they couldn't live with the terms."

Though the city owns Al Lang Stadium, the baseball commission manages the facility as well as the Walter Fuller Sports Complex on the west side of town.

One of Edwards' complaints, about the condition of the playing fields at Al Lang, is being addressed right now. Last month, in response to Edwards' complaints, the city approved spending $250,000 to renovate the turf.

Adams said the allegations in the lawsuit are wrong. He especially took exception to the complaint about ticket revenue.

"I don't know how they could make those allegations," he said. "They don't have any facts because the facts aren't there."

According to the suit, the Rowdies have a contract with the baseball commission and pay $7,800 per match to the commission as a license fee. The baseball commission, in turn, has a contract with a third-party ticket agency, Extreme­Tix, which distributes ticket revenue to the team.

"Not surprisingly, information and documentation has not been forthcoming, leading to an inference that the Defendant has in fact removed monies due to the Plaintiff, characterized as surcharges, fees or by other euphemisms," the lawsuit says.

Adams says the real problem is that Edwards views the baseball commission, which got the Al Lang contract in 2010, as an "impediment." He believes Edwards wants to run the stadium.

"My clients helped bring the Rowdies to St. Petersburg and worked hard to be a success," he said. "The Rowdies have been playing on that field for three years. Nobody said the field wasn't good enough. The Rowdies renewed their deal. The city hasn't complained or told us there was something wrong. … What happened is we get a new owner who has his own ideas."

Edwards has made no secret about how he feels about the commission. Amid talk of the turf renovations this spring, he also revealed he would like a shot at the Walter Fuller contract.

In June, the council extended the baseball commission's current management there until July 2015 but simultaneously will accept bids for the contract. The baseball commission has the Al Lang contract through September 2016.

Earlier this week, during an appearance at the Suncoast Tiger Bay club, Edwards said he would like a new waterfront stadium for the soccer team.

Edwards called council members on Wednesday to tell them he was suing the commission.

"I had just hoped they would work it out," council member Steve Kornell said. "It's unfortunate it had to come to this, a lawsuit."

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.

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