By JAKE NUTTING
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman ruffled some feathers two weeks ago in Tampa Bay and even with the Tampa Bay Rowdies when he, unprompted, mentioned in a radio interview with WDAE 620-AM that Major League Soccer was “intrigued” by the idea of a new stadium for the Rowdies where Tropicana Field currently sits.
The suggestion understandably miffed Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards, who quickly released a statement reaffirming his commitment to expanding Al Lang Stadium up to MLS standards using private money. Edwards has spent many months and a lot of money selling the local community and MLS on the idea of Al Lang as the home of a potential Rowdies MLS franchise. He doesn’t just want to be one of the four expansion groups to make it into MLS, he wants to be one of the two groups announced at the end of this year. To do that, Edwards’ group has been focused on demonstrating confidence in a single plan and location.
Kriseman’s comments also drew the attention of local media, spawning Tampa Bay Times columns from Tom Jones and John Romano. Both columns threw cold water on the idea of the Rowdies moving to the Tropicana site and, without much compelling evidence, cast doubt on the viability of the Rowdies’ MLS bid.
Below is a portion of Unused Substitute’s interview with Kriseman this week in which he expands on the Tropicana Field speculation. He explained how the Tropicana Field site came up in his talks with MLS, gave some insight on the league’s feelings toward the Al Lang expansion plan, and offered up why he believes the idea of two potential sites for the Rowdies wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for MLS.
US: What sense have you gotten from MLS about the Al Lang stadium site and the Rowdies’ proposal for that location?
RK: Certainly (Don Garber) is familiar with the stadium location and recognizes our downtown waterfront, and where the stadium sits on the waterfront, is probably one of the most scenic and beautiful locations for a stadium and one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the state of Florida, if not the country. Having a stadium on that site, I think he knows that visually, when you’re televising games, is going to show and play really well on a TV screen. At the same time, when we were showing him some of the data from our presentation to Major League Baseball, he saw what the future of the Trop site could potentially be. At first he said, “Wow, and the Rays haven’t already committed to that yet given what you guys are talking about doing there?” He was a little surprised that they were even considering being somewhere else. That was when he first mentioned to us that if the Rays decided that wasn’t the site they wanted to be at, it was worth looking at, even if there was an Al Lang site. That Trop site would allow for a larger facility that could allow more world class, World Cup type soccer events to occur.
US: So this idea has never gotten to a serious level then? It was just a note of interest Don Garber took in just the potential of the site?
RK: I was very clear with him that as far as I’m concerned, first and foremost, it’s the home of the Tampa Bay Rays for as long as they want it to be there home. Until we knew what the Rays decision is, we weren’t willing to consider anything else there. If the Rays were to decide for whatever reason that location isn’t the best place for them to be, what I communicated to the commissioner was, I would like to see an MLS franchise in St. Pete. If Al Lang is the site for that franchise, I’m very happy to have it there. If MLS were to say, we think that a better location would be on the Tropicana Field site, then I’m certainly willing to have those discussions too because we would really like to see MLS in St. Petersburg.
US: I’m unsure of the timing here. I don’t know what the timeline for the Rays to make their decision is, but MLS will be making a decision in the next 8 or so months. So I’m not sure the timing with the Tropicana site would work out for the Rowdies and MLS.
RK: We had a three-year agreement with the Rays in which they had three years to do their due diligence and look at all the different options available to them in the Tampa Bay area. That’ll expire in 2018. Having said that, you’re right. MLS is gonna be making some decisions. But I think they know, and certainly based on the presentation which I’ve seen that the Rowdies made to them, they know they’ve got a facility that they could, if they were to award a franchise to St. Pete, that they could move in to. So my expectation would be that whether it was at Al Lang or Tropicana Field, I don’t know that that would prevent them from making their decision to award a franchise here. (Garber’s) said there are some communities that have made presentations where they had great ownership but they didn’t know where they were gonna put a stadium. So that was a real challenge for that ownership group. Then there were other cities that had stadium sites, but had no ownership group so they had to go out and find an ownership group. We don’t have that issue. We have an ownership group, we have a stadium site. The only question we have is whether that is the stadium site that the team ultimately chooses and uses or is there a different site. That’s a decision that can be made by the team and the league once the franchise is awarded I would certainly hope.