The Tampa Bay Rowdies will play on newly-leveled turf when they return to Al Lang field next month, and it will not cost new Rowdies owner Bill Edwards a dime.
Thursday afternoon, the St. Petersburg City Council approved spending up to $250,000 to tear up the existing field, level it, install new irrigation and lay new turf. The work is expected to start Sunday.
A few weeks ago, Edwards offered to spend $132,000 to level the field, with the proviso it not later be used for baseball.
Mayor Rick Kriseman immediately rejected that offer, citing Al Lang's historic use as a baseball facility, which continues now with its use by mostly out-of-state teams for training games.
The long-term future of Al Lang is also part of a voter-mandated waterfront master plan due by July 2015.
While city officials claim a properly installed field can be converted back and forth between baseball and soccer, Edwards told FOX 13 he’s not sure that is going to work.
"If I'm not paying for it and the city wants to go ahead and do it that way and they feel comfortable, they can get it back to a level playing field, then I'm all for it."
Edwards first voiced his concern about the field early in the current soccer season. He said the unevenness of the turf was causing injuries to his players, other teams were objecting to field conditions and the soccer league was considering sanctioning the Rowdies.
At the time, he suggested he might have to find another place to play. But Thursday, he said he had never considered selling the team.
"Our attendance is growing and growing," Edwards said. "Ticket-wise, we've outsold any previous year of tickets already, which is showing me fans want it."
Edwards also repeated his vision of replacing Al Lang Stadium with an 18,000 to 20,000 seat mixed-use facility.
However, he would want his company to manage it.
"I think if you own a professional sports team, you manage our own field. If you have somebody else managing the field, there's no way to support the team," Lang said.
City officials described the immediate turf work as a three-to-five year solution. The stadium was built in 1972 and either needs major renovation, replacement or removal.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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