ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Plans to expand St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium have been discussed for months. Now, Mayor Rick Kriseman confirms the issue will be placed on the November 2016 general election ballot - in one form or another.
Asked directly by FOX 13 News about a referendum, Kriseman responded, "Yeah, I think we're going to need to, so we're looking at what that would look like right now."
Al Lang occupies downtown waterfront park land and the city's charter requires referendums on any long term commitments. In this case, voters would be asked to approve a long term use agreement with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the stadium's primary tenant and facility management company.
In a prepared statement Rowdies owner Bill Edwards told FOX 13 News, "I am excited to discuss our vision to further enhance and increase the capacity of Al Lang Stadium... I am please that Mayor Kriseman and I have been able to talk this through and come to similar conclusions about the future of soccer in St. Pete."
In the past, Edwards described a $70 million expansion that would increase stadium capacity from roughly 7,500 to 18,500. He said several matches sold out last season, and last month the stadium was used by several Major League Soccer clubs during spring training.
"We think there's a lot of opportunity for that stadium to be a home not only to the Rowdies, but to rugby matches, and lacrosse matches and motocross and volley ball and concerts and... potentially even host some football games," Kriseman said.
Those prospects will reinforce a request for Pinellas county tourism tax dollars, which will be needed for a project of this magnitude. To earn those dollars, Pinellas County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice posed this question: "What is the speculative heads in beds return on investment for the tourism component on it?"
Justice also confirmed the mayor's motivation for moving the project forward quickly. He said there will be competition for a finite amount of county tourism tax revenue.
"I think you're going to see that Rowdies [request] drop pretty soon, and that I think will force the others to expedite their plans," Justice said, referring to presumed requests for funding from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the city of Dunedin, which may request help building a new spring training facility for the Toronto Blue Jays.
"There's not enough money to do everything for everybody," Justice said.
He also agreed a show of public support might bolster St. Petersburg's request.
"As far as the [county] commission is concerned, I think seeing a referendum certainly gives some comfort if you're going to support financing for a stadium," Justice told FOX 13 News.