William Edwards, owner of the North American Soccer League (NASL) Tampa Bay Rowdies is proposing a privately financed soccer stadium in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The Saint Petersburg entrepreneur seeks to construct an attractive, contemporary style stadium, for a possible Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. The site, where the historic Major League Baseball Al Lang Stadium sits, overlooks Tampa Bay, in Saint Petersburg.
Edwards, at a team rally/news conference, indicated that he is in preliminary talks with the MLS to bring a franchise to the Florida Gulf Coast, in an 18,000 seat stadium. The Al Lang site renovation and expansion includes 12,000 additional seats. The site is adjacent to the fine arts venue, the Mahaffey Theatre, which Edwards runs for the City of Saint Petersburg. Initial estimates peg the stadium expansion at $80 million. Architectural renderings show the stadium will not expand into Tampa Bay nor go beyond the confines of its property boundary.
The site came to the attention of the MLB Tampa Bay Rays 10 years when they were seeking a site for a new stadium. Unlike Edwards private financing proposal, the Rays baseball club demanded public funding and expansion into the surrounding streets and into Tampa Bay.
Many see Edwards stadium proposal an ideal fit for the downtown Saint Petersburg. It taps into the downtown aura without an intrusion and further elevates Saint Petersburg, Florida as a “major league sports town.” The proposed soccer venue would compliment the picturesque waterfront of the burgeoning Tampa Bay metropolis.
While William “Bill” Edwards plans for the waterfront stadium is ambitious, it requires voter approval. Edwards, working with community leaders indicated he will not pursue a referendum on the project until he receives final approval for an MLS expansion team.
Sports finance analysts estimate Edwards shelling out $150 million to the MLS for an expansion team. The figure could balloon even higher as the MLS Orlando City franchise currently holds territorial rights to the Saint Petersburg location. If everything falls into place, Williams envisions the Saint Petersburg MLS franchise beginning play in 2019.
MLS sees the Tampa Bay region as a viable market given the rave reviews the region gets for lifestyle, culture, and weather. A voter referendum would occur in August 2017, at the earliest.