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Why a soccer stadium is the last thing the Tropicana Field site needs

An aerial view of the 85-acre tract where Tropicana Field currently resides. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2013)]
An aerial view of the 85-acre tract where Tropicana Field currently resides. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2013)]
Published Aug. 3, 2017

The land is enticing, no doubt about that.

The 85-acre tract where Tropicana Field resides is so large and uniquely situated that it's almost impossible to screw up its redevelopment.

Unless you're thinking about building a soccer stadium there.

The idea came up this week when St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman mentioned on a radio show that Major League Soccer had some interest in that location as a possible stadium site.

Yeah, I'll bet they do.

You might have noticed Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards hasn't been talking about the Trop site. And you also might have noticed that Kriseman has not claimed this idea as his own.

Since Edwards already controls Al Lang Stadium and has the city's permission to renovate it should he get an MLS expansion team, he has no reason to build at the Trop site. And since Edwards is paying for any Al Lang renovations, the mayor also has no incentive to spend money on a soccer stadium.

So the logical conclusion is that this is an MLS brainstorm.

And that leads to a couple of questions:

1. Just how enthusiastic is the MLS about the Al Lang site?

I'm guessing the answer is "not a lot," and so the next question becomes:

2. How much interest should St. Pete have in building a new soccer stadium?

Once again, I would suggest "not a lot" is the appropriate response.

Going back to the original premise, those 85 acres are incredibly valuable. Enough so that a lot of people think St. Petersburg would be better off letting the Tampa Bay Rays move to Hillsborough County so the city can let its imagination run wild at the Trop site. And that's a legitimate argument to make.

So if the city is entertaining the idea of getting out of the business of Major League Baseball — with its higher profile, larger fan base and 81-game home schedule — why would it then turn over a chunk of that land to a soccer team?

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame MLS officials for sneaking peeks at that site.

Al Lang has been a cozy home for the Rowdies, and the stadium expansion plans would make it even more viable. But the truth is, the stadium would still be on the small side and the proposed design would be leaving a gaping hole — albeit with a breathtaking, waterfront view — where prime seating should go.

So it's perfectly understandable if MLS has interest in a stadium built specifically for soccer.

"I very much want to see an MLS franchise in St. Petersburg," Kriseman told me Wednesday. "And if MLS says the Trop site would be the best location, I'm willing to have that discussion. But we're making no commitment at this point because we, as a community, still have to figure out what makes the most sense for that land."

It's looking more likely that plans for an MLS franchise in Miami are firming up, which means the league would already have teams in Orlando and South Florida when the expansion process heats up. That doesn't preclude St. Pete from getting a team, but it's probably not helpful either.

So, no, St. Pete shouldn't take it personally if MLS protects its own interests. And MLS shouldn't take it personally if St. Pete does the same.