Bill Edwards’ effort to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to St. Petersburg may have received a major boost from MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Last week, the Miami Herald reported that Garber put a time limit on the prospective MLS stadium in Miami set up by superstar soccer player David Beckham.
“There is a deadline on the Miami deal,” Garber told reporters in Toronto. And if Beckham fails to meet that as-yet-unspecified deadline, MLS owners may have to turn to an alternative.
Enter Edwards, the St. Petersburg entrepreneur who recently unveiled a privately funded $80 million renovation and expansion plan for Al Lang Stadium, which is part of a larger strategy to add his Tampa Bay Rowdies as a possible MLS franchise.
Earlier this year, Beckham and his Miami partners purchased 6 acres of land in Overtown, and are in the process of negotiating an additional 3-acre parcel currently owned by Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Herald the county is ready to sell the land, but Beckham and his representatives seem to be struggling to line up investment for a privately financed MLS stadium.
But Miami Herald reporters Douglas Hanks and Michelle Kaufman note that privately, insiders say the extensions for Miami “won’t last forever.”
Garber said MLS owners meet this week to discuss expansion plans, which could bring more clarity to Miami’s timetable.
Miami-based public relations executive Aaron Gordon, who represents the Beckham, said in a statement: “Our partners are 100 percent committed to Miami, and we will continue working with Commissioner Garber and the league as we finalize the launch of our world-class soccer club. We’re making progress, and we appreciate the strong support of our fans as our launch draws closer.”
“We continue to work with the ownership group because we want a team in Miami,” Garber said when asked by reporters about the Miami deal. “We continue to be very engaged there.”
But as other prospective teams – including Edwards’ Rowdies – developing stadium proposals, Garber suggested that any further delays in Beckham’s deal could result in the league looking elsewhere for new fans.
“We need to resolve the Miami situation so we can move forward,” he said.
Estimates have the cost of the Miami project at least $150 million, nearly double that of Edward’s plan for St. Petersburg. That cost difference could make Edwards’ concept much more attractive to the MLS, especially if Beckham’s Miami stadium should fall through.
According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Garber had positive things to say about the Tampa Bay region as a new MLS market during an October appearance at the University of South Florida.
While Orlando City Soccer may be the dominant team in the region, particularly with TV rights, an Edwards representative said it is something “that can be worked out.”