St. Pete Council Votes to Hold Special Election on Al Lang
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
The May 2 referendum will allow residents of St. Petersburg to vote on giving City Council the authority to negotiate a long-term agreement to use Al Lang Stadium as the home field for a Major League Soccer team.
ST. PETERSBURG – City Council members took a major step today (March 2) to bring Major League Soccer to St. Petersburg.
The unanimous decision means St. Petersburg residents will have a chance om May 2 to vote whether to give the council the authority to negotiate a long-term use agreement for Al Lang Stadium. The use agreement, which can’t exceed 25 years, would allow Al Lang Stadium’s primary purpose to be the home field for a potential Major League Soccer team.
“This vote is going to pass,” St. Petersburg Council member Charlie Gerdes said. “The referendum is going to pass. Let’s hope MLS does the right thing.”
The decision to hold the referendum is a major step forward in the campaign to bring Major League Soccer to the city. The campaign, known as #MLS2StPete, began in December when the Tampa Bay Rowdies announced their intention to seek an MLS franchise. Less than two weeks after the announcement, MLS named the Rowdies as one of the 12 candidates in the running for four available franchises.
Having a stadium available is seen as a plus in convincing the MLS to award the franchise to the Rowdies. The campaign also includes a privately funded renovation and expansion plan for Al Lang Stadium. The proposed design was highlighted in a video that was shown to the council before they voted.
Council members also heard from 24 speakers, most of whom urged them to let voters make the decision. A few, however, were concerned about other issues that included traffic, noise and parking.
Residents who live near Al Lang were worried, not about the soccer games, but about other events that might happen in the stadium between games. Concerts, for example, could create noise late into the night.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and council members tried to reassure residents that, when it comes time to negotiate the use agreement, concerns about noise, parking and other issues would be taken into account. And, they said, that agreement would have to approved by a super majority of at least six votes from the eight-member council.
“We will address a lot of the issues in the use agreement,” Council member Ed Montanari said. “This is a very good deal, not only for the city of St. Petersburg, but for Pinellas County, the region and the state.”
Kriseman said that the referendum only frees the council to negotiate an agreement. The vote will not bind the council to any particular details. As for noise, the mayor said, a proposed noise ordinance is on the drawing board and is expected to come before the council in the near future.
He, like several council members and speakers, pointed out that the referendum is being paid for by the Rowdies, who have already written St. Pete a check for about $275,500 for the special election. And, the expansion of the stadium is also being paid for by the Rowdies. No tax money is involved, they said.
“How many cities see that happen?” Kriseman asked.
Rowdies owner Bill Edwards also offered his reassurances, saying, “We are going to do everything in our power to make everyone in the community happy. … We don’t want to do anything to hurt our neighbors.”
Screenshots of proposed design for Al Lang Stadium courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
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