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Professional women’s soccer league unveils stadium plans

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering of Super League Tampa Bay's planned waterfront stadium in downtown Tampa - a site it would share with Howard W. Blake High School. All images provided.

Tampa’s first Super League professional women’s soccer team plans to transform the Howard W. Blake High School’s sports field into an upgraded waterfront stadium as the group searches for a permanent home. 

The Super League Tampa Bay, a women’s soccer club that’s joining the United Soccer League (USL) Super League, is pursuing a partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools for the expansion and use of the envisioned stadium. The stadium, located along the Hillsborough River, would host the team’s first home game seasons next year, Super League Tampa Bay President Christina Unkel announced Wednesday morning in front of the Armature Works event venue.

Speakers at the event (left to right): Tampa Downtown Partnership Interim President Shaun Drinkard, Ybor developer and team co-partner Daryl Shaw, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, team co-partner David Laxer and Super League Tampa Bay President Christina Unkel. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

Unkel, joined by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and the team’s co-partners, unveiled renderings showing the open-air stadium on the school’s campus, but didn’t disclose the estimated cost or construction timeline. 

However, Unkel told the St. Pete Catalyst the updated stadium will be privately funded and backed by corporate partners. They will not seek public funding through bed taxes. 

The site is ideal as the team can’t build a permanent soccer facility in the next 10 months, co-partner and former real estate broker Jeff Fox recently shared. 

Ybor developer Darryl Shaw, Bern’s Steakhouse owner David Laxer and Fox are all co-partners in the USL team. The trio played soccer in their youth and banded together to create the highest-level professional women’s soccer team in Tampa Bay. 

The first season will start in August 2024. It will follow the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) schedule. 

A proposal by the school district staff and the team to establish the partnership will go before the Hillsborough County School Board for a vote Oct. 17. 

If the school board approves the partnership, the existing capacity would expand from 1,800 to roughly 5,000. The team would also install new FIFA-approved turf and work with school leaders to identify beautification projects on the school’s campus.

Off the field, the team is engaging with school faculty about untapping opportunities for students to utilize the stadium and leverage the partnership.

Unkel said the students could create one of the musical chants sung by fans during games, and TV production students could participate in live game broadcasts. 

“This location is perfect for the stadium. The historic Blake High School was one of the first Black high schools in our community,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said during the media event.

Blake and Middleton High School were the only two high schools open to Black students during the segregation era. 

“Think of what this will mean for downtown to bring crowds into West Tampa and electrify it on Saturday nights [when the games will be hosted],” Castor said. 

The announcement comes one month after the team revealed it would utilize a vacant lot in Ybor into a practice/training site owned by Shaw. 

The inaugural 2024 season will feature 10 to 12 teams, with additional teams set to join in subsequent seasons.  

The club is accepting season ticket deposits, which will convert into a season ticket and save an attendee’s seat at a game. 

A USL Tampa Bay member representative recently said the team is recruiting domestic and international players. 

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