Updated on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 3 p.m. to include new offer from Foundry St. Louis -
A decision on an offer to cover a funding gap for a proposed soccer stadium in St. Louis could rest with the top professional league in the U.S.
Two groups have been trying to secure a local MLS expansion franchise and one is suggesting a partnership that could eliminate the need for public money. Foundry St. Louis officials say they are willing to put $80 million into the $200 million project proposed by SC STL.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says it isn't up to the city to approve such a plan.
"We would love to have somebody come in who would cover the $80-million. But having said that - again this is not that simple. Because we've got the MLS. They have chosen a team. So, there's going to have to be some agreement there before any of this comes together," Slay told St. Louis Public Radio.
Slay also says that as of Tuesday morning his office had not been approached by Foundry St. Louis.
"And we really can't do anything about it, in the position that we are in because it's not up to us who the MLS is going to work with. It's up to them."
Foundry St. Louis announced the offer Monday night in a letter that was posted online. SC STL has not commented.
Our original story, Thursday, Nov. 17 -
After a bid to build a new home for the city’s now-departed football team went up in flames, a consortium is jump-starting a new effort to build a publicly financed stadium in St. Louis – this time for a professional soccer team.
But unlike the unsuccessful riverfront stadium gambit, organizers of the Major League Soccer effort plan to have a citywide vote next year to secure public dollars for the stadium.
An ownership group known as SC STL wants to build a $200 million stadium west of Union Station in downtown St. Louis. The group includes former Bain Capital chairman Paul Edgerley as its chairman, as well as World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and Tortoise Capital Advisors Terry Matlack as vice chairmen. (Former Anheuser Busch President Dave Peacock, who spearheaded the unsuccessful NFL stadium venture, will serve as an executive board member of the group.)
The stadium would have an opening-day capacity of about 20,000 seats, with the possibility of expanding to 28,500 seats, according to a news release. It would be built on 24 acres of property currently controlled by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“SC STL holds an exclusive option to purchase the property through an agreement with the Land Clearance and Redevelopment Authority of St Louis,” the release said.
SC STL officials have been working with Major League Soccer officials throughout the year. MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited St. Louis last year in the midst of the quest to build the riverfront stadium.
"With its rich soccer heritage, St. Louis has always been a market of great interest to Major League Soccer and SC STL is the ideal ownership group that will provide St. Louis the best opportunity for a future expansion team," said Garber in a statement.
"We have had very productive meetings with lead investor Paul Edgerley and his partners and will continue to do so as they work to bring an expansion team to St. Louis. Their downtown site is the ideal location for a new stadium and we look forward to helping them make it a reality."
Edgerley, who was part of the ownership group that bought the Boston Celtics in the 2000s, said in a statement, "This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis.”
“We know the city will support the team and the league with passion and enthusiasm,” Edgerley said. “There is still a lot of work to do, but we are optimistic that working together we can make this happen for an outstanding sports and soccer town, and simply one of the best cities in America."
Taking it to the voters
While the news release indicated that SC STL would fund “much” of the stadium, it added that organizers of the efforts are working with St. Louis officials to secure public funding contingent on a vote of the people in April 2017. That’s when city voters will go to the polls to effectively ratify the results of the March Democratic primary.
For those who followed aldermanic politics over the past year, having city voters decide on a stadium’s public funding is a major philosophical change from the NFL saga.
Citing a tight timeline, proponents of that NFL stadium project, including Peacock, sought to approve city-issued bonds through the Board of Aldermen – not through a public vote. In fact, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority sued St. Louis to strike down a statute requiring a citywide vote for stadium funding.
The ultimately successful effort to short-circuit a public vote was one of the reasons the legislative process over the now-scuttled football facility became so contentious and bitter. And fallout from that episode could become part of the discourse in the unwieldy race to succeed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
But while public financing stadiums often attract passionate opposition, it’s possible that taking the soccer stadium funding to the public could be palpable to aldermen who are stadium skeptics. And there's another big difference: The ownership group actually wants to have a professional sports team here, as compared to NFL situation in which now-Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke was intent on bolting out of the Gateway City.
In any case, the press release announcing the MLS bid had supportive quotes from Slay, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Gov. Jay Nixon. (Though Cordell Whitlock, a spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, said in an e-mail that "the group’s plan does not include a request for public money from the County for the stadium.”)
"This is a moment that St. Louis has to seize. The potential of what this can mean for Downtown St. Louis and the people of our entire region is immense,” Slay said in a statement. “I cannot imagine a better stadium setting anywhere in MLS than the one we envision west of Union Station, and I am very appreciative that Commissioner Garber and his staff are willing to work with me and our ownership group to make it happen."
Don’t hold your breath on state funding?
The release didn’t mention any direct state funding for the project. It said “owners have had discussions with the state of Missouri for assistance with site development and infrastructure, primarily using traditional economic development tools available through the state.”
That too is a big change from the NFL stadium proposal, which would have used state-issued bonds to pay for the majority of the facility’s public funding. Nixon was prepared to issue those bonds without approval from the Missouri General Assembly, which greatly angered a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Nixon’s tactics also found disapproval at the time from Gov.-elect Eric Greitens, who talked about “the epitome of what's wrong with Jefferson City's culture of corruption.” He also said he opposed “welfare for billionaires,” adding that the legislature should wait “until we have a governor they can trust not to burden generations of Missouri's children with stadium debt.”
That statement signals that, barring a major change of heart, Greitens isn’t going to get behind an effort to deliver significant state funding for the soccer stadium after Nixon leaves office – which means it’ll be up to local jurisdictions to provide the public cash.