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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Al Lang repairs may not be done for Rowdies opener

ST. PETERSBURG — The city may need to find extra money to fix up dilapidated parts of Al Lang Stadium following complaints from main tenants: the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

The soccer team recently wrote to the city listing dozens of issues with the 37-year-old waterfront arena including mold and flooding in locker rooms and other areas, inadequate stadium lighting and broken stadium seats. In response, the city has ordered the St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which has a contract with the city to manage the stadium, to come up with an action plan for the stadium by the end of April.

The city budgets $100,000 each year for the commission to maintain the stadium and the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex, but more money may be needed to tackle the long list of problems identified by Rowdies officials, who also complained about weeds on the playing field and problems with air-conditioning.

The city may pay for some of the costs, but it also could ask the commission and the Rowdies to pay a share, too, said Joe Zeoli, managing director of the city development administration.

“Certainly we would start looking toward additional resources to put toward that project,” he said. “We haven’t got that far to know if there is an appetite for St. Petersburg Baseball Commission or the Rowdies to participate in some of those improvements.”

The letter from the Rowdies, sent earlier this month, reveals an uneasy relationship between the commission and Rowdies new owner, The Edwards Group, headed by St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards.

Commission Director Steve Nadel said some problems listed by the Rowdies are “exaggerated or false,” including a complaint that grass clippings are not collected. He added the Rowdies showed no interest in scheduling routine operational meetings typically used to iron out stadium issues.

“The approach by the Rowdies was wrong,” Nadel said. “To be sending letters to Mayor (Rick) Kriseman and city administration when they have more important things to do. We can all figure this out together.”

In a letter sent to the Rowdies last week, Zeoli echoed some of the commission’s concerns.

“It was unfortunate that these issues were not brought to the city’s attention at the time the Edwards Group was preparing for the purchase of the franchise so a corrective action plan could be developed and implemented prior to this season’s opening game,” Zeoli wrote.

The Rowdies open their 2014 season against FC Edmonton on April 12 at Al Lang. Zeoli said it’s unlikely that many of the problems listed by the Rowdies will be addressed by then.

“Some may not be completed by opening day, but each time you come to the stadium, you should continue to see some improvement,” Zeoli said.

In a study of the city’s waterfront, the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group regarded as a center of excellence in planning and land-use, recommended razing the stadium and replacing it with a generic sports complex. Their report is intended to form part of the input to the city’s plan, which may not be completed until the middle of 2015.

That likely will mean more costly projects, such as replacing blocks of seating to allow work on areas of the stadium that may be causing flooding, will have to wait.

“That is one of those projects we need to know how long the stadium will be there so we have time to recapture that investment,” Zeoli said.

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