Updated 11:45 a.m. Aug. 16 with statement from Darlene Green— The owners of the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis have gone to court to kick-start the planned $100 million upgrade of the home of the St. Louis Blues.
Kiel Center Partners asked a St. Louis circuit judge on Tuesdsay to force Comptroller Darlene Green to issue the bonds for the project. This is the second lawsuit related to the work in a week: three St. Louis residents sued Friday, saying it’s illegal to use public dollars to help private companies make more money.
Aldermen narrowly approved the use of city money in February, but Green has refused to sign off, saying she is worried about the impact it will have on the city’s credit rating. In a statement, Kiel Center Partners called the delay “unacceptable.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Green called it "unfortunate" that she was being sued for doing her job to protect the city's credit rating.
Our original story
St. Louis should not be paying for upgrades for to the Scottrade Center, three St. Louis residents, including a Democratic alderwoman, asserted in a lawsuit filed Friday.
The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court against the city and the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, alleges that the state’s constitution forbids public money from being used to benefit private companies. It also says the 1992 lease between the city and the owners of the St. Louis Blues makes it clear St. Louis isn’t responsible for any upgrades to Scottrade.
The Board of Alderman narrowly approved a bill in February that puts more than $100 million of city money over 30 years into the Scottrade Center, which is home to the St. Louis Blues and also hosts concerts and other sporting events.
“We passed that ordinance under a false premise,” Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, said. She’s one of the participants in the lawsuit. “We were told over and over again that the city owns the building and the city is obligated to upgrade it. We are not.”
Aldermen who opposed the upgrades repeatedly asked to read the original lease. Spencer said she was “appalled” when she finally got a copy.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the law unenforceable.
“We are asking the city of St. Louis to come forward with two sales tax increases in one year just to cover basic city safety. And here we are obligating the city to repay $106 million out of its general revenue to improve the facility of a for-profit entity,” Spencer said.
In a statement, Kiel Center Partners called the lawsuit "frivolous, disappointing and embarrassing to our city," and added that it could be extremely costly to both taxpayers and St. Louis' reputation.
Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin said in a statement that he wouldn’t comment on the “merits” of the lawsuit, adding, “We will vigorously defend the City, its ordinances and agreements."
Comptroller Darlene Green has yet to sell the bonds to pay for the upgrades, citing concerns about its impact on the city’s credit rating. In a statement issued Friday, her office called on all parties to “work together to upgrade Scottrade Center within a framework that protects the City of St. Louis's credit and does not reduce current revenues meant for delivering essential city services, such as public safety, to our taxpayers.”
Treasurer Tishaura Jones has proposed using money for the city’s parking garage and meters to finance the upgrades. Her chief of staff, Jared Boyd, said Jones had talked to Green and Mayor Lyda Krewson about the possibility, but a 2017 suit that claims the treasurer has no authority over parking has put those discussions in a “holding pattern.”
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann