There are lots and lots of steps needed in order to make a proposed professional soccer stadium in St. Louis a reality. But in addition to passing two separate ballot initiatives and obtaining one of four Major League Soccer expansion slots, city aldermen added a new contingency: Getting the state involved in the project.
During a Ways and Means Committee hearing last week, aldermen approved an amendment that explicitly states that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has to “lease or otherwise transfer land … to the city” and “fund certain site clearing and infrastructure work as may be necessary to prepare the site” for construction.
What that language refers to is the fact that the proposed stadium site is on land that the Missouri Department of Transportation owns. The land in question is right next to Union Station.
“In the finance agreement that’s been filed, it talks a little about the role the state would play relative to the site,” said Dave Peacock, who is part of a group known as SC STL that’s trying to bring a MLS team to St. Louis. “The land where the facility would be is on state land, so that creates an opportunity for them, I think as they would do with any business, to participate.”
The specific language of the amendment is important for several reasons: Clearing land for development is expected to cost millions of dollars. And Gov. Eric Greitens has expressed opposition about expending state resources to help develop stadiums. (During Board of Aldermen debate on Monday, Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, estimated the state costs for site development would be about $12 million.)
But the state transportation commission would ultimately make the final call, and Greitens does not have direct control over that entity’s decision-making. (The terms of two members of the six-person transportation commission expire in March, which means Greitens could appoint their replacements.)
St. Louis Public Radio sent two e-mails to a Greitens spokesman asking whether the Republican governor would be comfortable with the commission selling or leasing land and paying for site work, but received no response. The governor did not take questions from reporters during a Friday appearance in St. Louis.
Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Brendel said that the Transportation Commission voted last fall to enter into negotiations with the City of St. Louis to “reach a fair-market price for the land in question within two years.”
“As for any other site work, that has not been determined,” Brendel said in an e-mail to St. Louis Public Radio. “An upcoming project to improve the Jefferson Avenue interchange will eliminate the need for the current roadway that sits on the property.”
A spokesman for MoDOT's St. Louis district sent St. Louis Public Radio the following statement:
This is not a MoDOT project – The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has entered into an option agreement with the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA (City of St. Louis)) The LCRA has the right to purchase the commission’s interest in the property at fair market value within a 24-month timeframe. This is contingent upon a full interchange being built at Jefferson and I-64, which would make the existing ramps at 20th/Chestnut and Pine to I-64 redundant. At this time, there has been no determination as to which entities would pay for the full interchange at Jefferson and I-64.
In any case, policymakers like Alderman Stephen Conway, D-8th Ward, say the state should provide voters with some assurance that the city won’t be completely holding the financial bag if the soccer stadium comes to fruition.
“We’ll see what the state does,” he said last week. But those are the contingencies to make the residents comfortable. It will be a good package for them.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum