St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy, known for his oratorical abilities, didn’t make intricate speeches or engage in tough questioning as his peers on the Ways and Means Committee repeatedly discussed proposed ballot issues to help fund a Major League Soccer stadium and fix up the Scottrade Center.
But before aldermen sent a roughly $60 million plan laying out St. Louis’ financial responsibility for the proposed soccer stadium, the 18th Ward Democrat changed his approach, saying they had the wrong priorities and there needed to be “a paradigm shift.”
“It is difficult for me as an alderman from an area that is filled with poverty and disenfranchisement to become excited about projects that are really based up on the profit motivations of people with money,” said Kennedy, who represents nine neighborhoods in central and north St. Louis, many of which are dealing with crime and concentrated poverty.
When it comes to the MLS proposal, the question of what type of projects a city with limited resources should focus on isn’t a hypothetical.
In order for city money to go toward the potential stadium, voters must approve a half-cent sales tax increase. Whenever the sales tax goes up, the use tax on business also goes up. So, to lock in stadium funding, voters will have to approve a separate measure directing the use tax increase to the soccer facility.
The use tax currently goes toward affordable housing, public safety infrastructure and neighborhood development, according to Glenn Burleigh with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council. In effect, Burleigh said, building the stadium will steer away money for those purposes.
That doesn’t sit well with Kennedy.
“The city needs to be thinking in a different way. How do we solve these issues of poverty? How do we solve these issues of disenfranchisement? And what are the money-generating activities and/or projects or programs that can be implemented to solve them?” he said.
Alderman Christine Ingrassia, who originally wasn’t a fan of funding a soccer stadium, carried the final versions of the MLS-related legislation. The 6th Ward Democrat said she was comfortable with the possibility that a potential MLS franchise will have a financial impact beyond the stadium’s field.
“I’m very excited that we were able to get this to revenue-neutral and then in the black for the city,” said Ingrassia, referring to projections that the stadium will ultimately generate more taxes than the city’s initial share of construction.
Jim Kavanaugh with SC STL, the ownership group trying to bring a MLS team to St. Louis, said building a soccer stadium is not “going to solve all of the city issues and challenges.” But St. Louis’ already deep club system of schoolchildren playing soccer could be expanded if MLS comes here, he said — and that could improve the lives of all St. Louis kids.
“People are going to look at it and say, ‘We can use the money in other areas.’ And I think they’re legitimate perspectives from different individuals, whether it’s some of the aldermen or it’s actual voters,” Kavanaugh said. “But at the end of the day, the way that we look at it … we truly look at this as a good investment for the city.”
If the two ballot initiatives go up for a vote in April, the vote will show whether St. Louis residents subscribe to Kennedy’s or Kavanaugh’s perspective.
Regardless of what happens, Kennedy plans to keep pushing for money for social renewal. And he is optimistic that a paradigm shift is on the horizon – especially with a new mayor and new aldermen taking office later this year.
Without "constant and dynamic change," Kennedy said, "African-Americans would still be sitting at the back of the bus and we wouldn’t be able to walk into the Fox Theater."
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
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