Updated at 8:40 p.m. March 27 with details from rally — St. Louis always has been a location in Major League Soccer’s sights for growth, the league’s commissioner said Monday, but taxpayers will have to bear some of the cost to make that a reality.
If the city doesn’t have a stadium as part of its bid for one of four expansion teams, it’s a non-starter, Commissioner Don Garber said at a news conference ahead of an evening rally at Ballpark Village.
“I’m here because I’d like an MLS team in St. Louis,” Garber said. “But we can’t make that decision until we know whether there is going to be a stadium.”
Later, at the rally, he told more than 500 fans a stadium has been what’s holding St. Louis back from getting a team.
His visit comes about a week before the April 4 election, in which voters will decide on two ballot measures — Propositions 1 and 2 — that would help pay for that stadium, to be built near Union Station. Garber, who sat beside members of investment group SC STL, made the case that the stadium is a good investment because city residents will recoup more in tax money in the long-term than the up to $60 million that could be used for the stadium.
Backers of the stadium argue that a professional soccer team will help keep St. Louis vibrant and relevant, bringing in younger and international fans to watch the game. But some residents and city officials don’t think public dollars should go to professional sports, saying the money from the sales tax increase could be better spent elsewhere.
It’s also been a point of contention that neither the state nor St. Louis County will pitch in, though the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission would have to sell or lease its land for the stadium to be built.
Garber defended the need for some public support, saying that even for the recent expansion into St. Paul, Minnesota, and other places, the ownership group paid for the stadium but there was public investment in the land and infrastructure.
“So in none of those cases 100 percent of the cost (was) entirely born by the investor,” Garber said.
Garber also said the league is not turning a profit 20 years after it launched with just 10 clubs because the 22-member league and its owners are still in “investment mode” to grow the sport.
SC STL is committed to paying MLS’ $150 million franchise fee and signing a 30-year lease on the stadium. The league will name two expansion cities later this year and two more at a later date.
The rally drew people from beyond the city limits, including Andrew Cordes from Belleville, Illinois. He’s a big sports fan, regularly attending Cardinals and Blues games (and the Rams, when they were here). Though he wouldn’t directly pay for the stadium since he’s not in the city, he says the St. Louis will still get his money when he comes to see an MLS team.
“I think it brings in a lot of outside money, especially just from right across the river, or from the county,” he said.
Gesa Degreeff lives in St. Louis County and watches soccer teams from the U.S. and Germany, her home country. She said professional soccer is good for the whole region, even if it’s just the city footing some of the bill.
“I don’t want St. Louis to fall behind,” she said. “I know MLS is such a great opportunity — it doesn’t matter for the county or St. Louis City.”
Taylor Twellman, a St. Louis native and former U.S. men’s national team player-turned-ESPN commentator, emceed the rally. He was joined by Brad Davis, who’s from St. Charles, and also played for the USMNT in the last World Cup.
Twellman told fans he always wanted to score a goal in his hometown.
“There is a 6-year-old Brad Davis that’s out there that wants to play and score a goal, something I always thought I would do, in front of St. Louis and their fans,” he said.