The Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Edwards Group released the following statement following the referendum results tonight in St Petersburg.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies took another important step towards bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, as St. Petersburg voters approved the Al Lang Stadium referendum by an overwhelming majority with 87% of the votes.
Residents of St. Petersburg came out in significant numbers to support #MLS2StPete and approve the referendum, which gives City Council the authority to negotiate a long-term use agreement for Al Lang Stadium.
“I am grateful to the citizens of St. Petersburg for passing this important referendum,” said Rowdies Chairman & CEO Bill Edwards. “St. Petersburg is very protective of our incredibly valuable waterfront – as is appropriate. We have put together a stadium plan that enhances our downtown, is of a scale that is respectful to our waterfront and does not burden the taxpayers.”
The use agreement would allow Al Lang Stadium’s primary purpose to be the home field for a potential Major League Soccer team. The $80 million renovation and expansion will be privately funded and is contingent on being awarded an MLS franchise.
“This vote is clear confirmation that St. Petersburg wants and is ready for Major League Soccer,” said Edwards. “I want to specifically thank the City Administration and Council, the Chamber’s Rowdies Council and all of those Rowdies fans throughout our region who support this great effort.”
The Rowdies hosted a Victory Party at Al Lang Stadium on Tuesday night, where hundreds of fans showed up to celebrate another historic moment in Rowdies history.
“In approving this referendum, voters have not only expressed their support for a longer term agreement at Al Lang Stadium, but have sent a strong message that St. Pete and the entire region are excited about the prospect of the Rowdies joining MLS,” said City of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “The Rowdies’ future in the Sunshine City has never been brighter.”
After the results were made public, The Edwards Group President and former City of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker took the stage to celebrate the victory.
“Today is a great day for St. Pete and Rowdies soccer,” said Baker. “The loud and clear message is that our city and region are enthused and ready for Major League Soccer.”
After receiving the positive news, St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Darden Rice expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the election.
“I am thrilled with the outcome of the referendum,” said Rice. “This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our city. Our message to MLS is simple: we want you in St. Pete!”
The overwhelming vote will certainly please many around MLS after the recent political setbacks in St Louis and Charlotte. However, challenges still remain for the Rowdies to be one of the four new MLS clubs that will be added. Tampa Bay would be the second Florida side joining Orlando City if they were to gain MLS admission. Leaving Orlando geographically isolated is a concern for MLS, however stronger bids are present currently from two locales in California (San Diego and Sacramento) and San Antonio. At best Tampa Bay would be objectively 4th among potential expansion bids, and I have actually placed them 6th overall. Only four bids will be selected for MLS admission.
The need for a geographic rival for Orlando though does boost Tampa Bay’s chances. A second Florida team might be strategic to gaining market share in this state for MLS and also cutting into the higher television ratings in this state for European and International football than MLS. Additionally, MLS may not want to have five teams in California and just one in Florida, so it is possible Tampa Bay will jump San Diego or Sacramento on that basis.
This is a long and fluid process and tonight’s referendum does give St Petersburg a boost but as of now, they remain on the outside looking in to the MLS party.