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Saint Petersburg Mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon sees benefits in a shared stadium

ST. PETERSBURG – The Tampa Bay Rays stadium situation is a central issue in the Saint Petersburg Mayoral race and as the Rays own the Tampa Bay Rowdies this has tied in the soccer team as well.

Mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon spoke exclusively with Florida Soccer Report to explain why he supports a shared stadium for Saint Petersburg’s two professional sporting clubs.

The issue around the stadium all stems from the Rays’ ownership decision to announce that they would look to play at least partial seasons in Montreal without a better stadium deal from the city government. Blackmon currently serves in City Council and had some thoughts about how that has proceeded.

“Where we’re headed with the Mayor is that he has shut off all negotiations with the ownership and executive team. Since he said, ‘I’m not going to give away 50 acres.’”

That’s where Blackmon feels he have an advantage. Having an already established relationship with the Rays and Rowdies ownership he believes he can get a better deal for Saint Petersburg, and come alongside the owners.

“He tried to slap in the face, and of course I wanted to hear more so I reached out. I said fill me in on this, they said okay here’s the thing he told us he was going to work with us on this plan to keep it under wraps.”

Of course, that’s not what happened, which meant not only did the city lose any leverage it could have with the owners it also lost their cooperation.

With that now lost Blackmon set about discovering what kind of deal would be done for the city, his belief is you have to work out what the worst is you’re willing to settle for and negotiate with that in mind, not just flat out not negotiating. So with the worst scenario being the split season, he set about determining how the missing games (and thus money) would be made up to the city.

“They want to stay at the Tropicana field site with a split season, and I said okay well how do we make up this split season I point-blank asked, would you be willing to commit the Rowdies to a new multipurpose stadium, the answer was yes.”

While Rowdies fans won’t like the idea of a shared stadium with a baseball team, Blackmon did push for something that soccer fans will likely be happy to hear. With a now much larger stadium than what USL would need he’d like to see the owners push for Major League Soccer again.

“I said would you commit to bringing the Rowdies to MLS? They said we’re not going to make that absolute commitment, right now, but we would certainly make our very best efforts.”

One concern that supporters have is how an atmosphere could be created in a stadium that is shared with a baseball team. But Blackmon thinks that is something that can be dealt with in a well-designed facility.

“You look at Al Lang, that wasn’t built for soccer but the Rowdies have made it work. If we develop the stadium with this in mind there’s no reason we can’t make everyone happy.”

READ MORE: Saint Petersburg Mayoral Candidate Pete Boland proposes Rays and Rowdies split venue

Blackmon believes his relationship with the team can restore the owner’s relationship with the city.

“I have a great relationship with the ownership I don’t know why that would change at all. I already deal with them all the time, and we do very frequently.”

There is one benefit for the city about a shared stadium that isn’t much talked about, and that’s that it would free up the land that Al Lang is on for development. That hasn’t been lost at Blackmon.

“It’s waterfront so anything would have to be up for a referendum but this move would open up that site. We can do anything. We already have a spectacular waterfront park, which we could add to our world-class museums. It would actually take this redevelopment to almost 100 acres and could make our city the crown jewel of the southeast.”

The mayoral election is on August 24th. If no candidate can secure a majority there will be a run-off for the position.

Photo Courtesy City of Saint Petersburg

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Published by Chris Hockman

Sports journalist since 2005 specializing in soccer and Paralympic sport while also blogging on theology.

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