Fan or foe: How St. Louis voters side when it comes to helping to pay for a soccer stadium | St. Louis Public Radio

Fan or foe: How St. Louis voters side when it comes to helping to pay for a soccer stadium

Mar 30, 2017

St. Louis, in 1907, formed the first professional soccer league in the U.S., had several hometown players on the 1950 U.S. World Cup team, and over the years has fostered dominant college teams. The Major League Soccer commissioner said the city has always been in the league’s sights.

There are very few current MLS clubs with a history already built in, former MLS player (and St. Louis native) Taylor Twellman said, before a pro-stadium rally this week. “The only thing this city needs is a professional team, playing at the highest level, with a soccer-specific stadium.”

Investment group SC STL is trying to land a MLS team, partially with help of of St. Louis taxpayers. And that’s where some city residents lose interest.

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Propositions 1 and 2 — both tax increases — must pass in tandem in Tuesday’s election in order for up to $60 million to be spent on building a downtown stadium.

“I don’t think anybody who actually lives in the city actually wants this,” said Stuart Keating, the 32-year-old co-owner of Earthbound Brewery on Cherokee Street.

Keating said if the city is going to raise taxes, there are better ways to spend the money, like on public transportation. Some of the money from Proposition 1, a half-cent sales tax icrease, will go toward MetroLink expansion.

“Public transportation is very, very important and I think that’s actually a much better draw and a much better allocation of funds for the public welfare than a stadium for millionaires,” Keating said.

The rest of the financial details break down like this: If Prop 1 passes, it also automatically raises the use tax that businesses pay on out-of-state purchases. Proposition 2 puts that money toward the stadium — a total of $50 million. The other $10 million could come from 50 percent of the sales tax money generated inside the stadium.

Doug Valentine lives in the Shaw neighborhood. He’s not a sports fan, but wears a Cardinals hat out of city pride.

“We need money, but we don’t need to waste it on that,” he said. “And I’m not a soccer fan anyway.”

Valentine is going to vote no on both propositions, but said some money should go toward fighting homelessness if they pass.

Orlando Fleming Sr. is a football fan but doesn’t think sports teams should be supported off “the sweat of our back.”

“We got a lot of homeless people down there,” he said as he left the O’Fallon Park YMCA in north St. Louis. “We got a lot of issues we need to tackle out, abandoned buildings in the inner city. We need a better Band-Aid than a stadium.”

A rendering of the proposed St. Louis soccer stadium.
Credit Courtesy of HOK

There is seemingly plenty of support for the stadium and a soccer team, though some of those fans live outside city limits and won’t have a say on the propositions. That’s been another bone of contention for opponents: Fans from outside of the city will benefit from the stadium with no financial cost.

“Unfortunately it’s become a political thing, instead of people coming together to support it, necessarily, but I’m confident it will pass,” said Justin Hager, a south St. Louis resident, while attending an event in February with the coach of U.S. men’s national team at the Amsterdam Tavern, a popular soccer bar in South City.

Jim Bellenger was also at that event, and drew parallels to the city putting money toward a Scottrade Center rehab, though the decision to spend about $105 million over 30 years on the Blues’ home didn’t go to voters, only the Board of Aldermen.

“I think it just would be good,” he said. “They’re putting the money toward the hockey arena, it would be similar, just money towards the soccer stadium.”

Fans watch Taylor Twellman, a St. Louis native and former U.S. men’s national team player-turned-ESPN commentator, speak Monday, at a rally supporting a soccer stadium.
Credit File | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The proposed soccer stadium site is west of Union Station on the edge of downtown.

“I feel like it would really bring up the area around Union Station as far as locals and everything, bringing money into the city, really,” Edward Everding, a 27-year-old from south St. Louis, said as he left Monday’s rally with the MLS commissioner and Twellman.

St. Louis is vying for one of four expansion franchises along with 11 other cities. A stadium is a required part of any city’s pitch.

St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum contributed reporting.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney.