Tuesday night, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards announced an ambitious campaign to bring Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg. In an electric presentation at The Birchwood in Downtown St. Pete, Edwards energized fans about the future of the team saying, “We are committed to expanding the world’s game right here in downtown St. Petersburg, and we feel strongly that joining Major League Soccer is the next logical step.”
In vying for an MLS franchise, Edwards also revealed an $80 million expansion project that would increase Al Lang Stadium’s capacity to around 18,000. This privately funded project is consistent with St. Pete’s Waterfront Master Plan and was designed in a way to minimize the impact on the stadium’s neighbors. The project will be built completely on site and will not impact the surrounding streets or waterfront. Additionally, the expanded stadium will be just as tall as the nearby Mahaffey Theater, so as to not obstruct any views of the waterfront from nearby condo towers or get in the way of flight paths from Albert Whitted Airport.
The design of the stadium is inspired by the nearby St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Each component of the new expansion is related to the relationship between the sailboats and the water that populates the marina. For example, the main canopy of the expansion pulls inspiration from the fabric lightweight sails and "the concourses and plazas have been designed and coordinated to mimic the changes of elevations and the irregular patterns of the wake that is left from a moving vessel".
The stadium expansion project would be contingent on the Rowdies being awarded an invite to join the MLS. In addition, because Al Lang Stadium is owned by the City of St. Pete, the expansion would require a citywide referendum that would give the Rowdies a long term lease to property. Edwards touted that the expanded stadium would provide an economic boost to Downtown St. Pete in saying, “Major League Soccer is watched all over the world. This move will bring national and international exposure to St. Petersburg, while also boosting tourism in the area. Bringing Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg will be a great economic driver for the entire region.” A meeting between Bill Edwards and MLS Commissioner Don Garber is scheduled for next month.
While many other cities are also bidding on an MLS expansion team, the Rowdies are optimistic in their efforts because Tampa Bay is the largest media market in the U.S. without a Major League Soccer team.
Edwards noted that community support plays a huge factor in attracting the MLS to Tampa Bay. Fans are encouraged to buy season tickets and sell out Al Lang Stadium in 2017 in an effort to show the MLS that Tampa Bay is ready to join their ranks. Be sure to use the hashtag #MLS2StPete to help spread the word. For more information on the Rowdies efforts, or to get involved, visit their website.