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Nixon bullish about stadium financing — even without St. Louis County's involvement

Bill Greenblatt I UPI
Gov. Jay Nixon says he's optimistic about funding a new football stadium even without involvement from St. Louis County. The governor emphasized that the county will still pay for the Edward Jones Dome.

With St. Louis County no longer involved in funding a new football stadium in St. Louis, there’s some uncertainty about the public financing of the project. But during a stop in Earth City on Wednesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed confidence that the money will be there to build the facility.

“As we move through the various options, we think this is the best clear path forward for us to have a transaction which protects taxpayers, gives us flexibility to move forward and ability to move forward at the speed and pace we need to be competitive in a time frame set by the NFL,” Nixon said.

As initially conceived, the roughly $1 billion outdoor stadium on St. Louis’ riverfront would be a public-private partnership. The public portion of the money was going to be paid for by “extending” bonds on the Edward Jones Dome, which are being paid off by the state, St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.

But St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger told reporters on Tuesday that the county would no longer need to contribute to $6 million a year for the new stadium. Instead, only the state and city will be on the hook to pay.

There’s been little insight from Nixon’s office or a two-person task force on whether the city or state would have to contribute more to building the new stadium. When asked about that topic on Wednesday, Nixon emphasized that private investment would be a linchpin to getting the stadium built. He also indicated that details about the financing are still being developed.

Private investment in the stadium could include, Nixon said, money from the NFL and a team’s owner and from personal seat licenses. 

St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger said his transition into his new office is going much more smoothly than last week.
Credit Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger

“All of those fit together, while at the same time making sure that the Dome is not being left stranded,” Nixon said.

One source of lingering tension is whether votes would be needed in the state, the city or the county to extend the bonds. Stenger has said that even if it’s not legally necessary to have a countywide vote, he wanted one anyway.

“As a general matter, if there’s new money on a new stadium and that is what’s being called for – if it was what’s being called for – a vote is necessary. It’s unquestionable,” Stenger said last Tuesday.

Nixon didn’t elaborate on his conversations with Stenger or his staff. But he said that the county will play an important role in the deal by continuing to pay off bonds for the Edward Jones Dome – a move he says will make it more attractive to conventions.

“We focused around with the private dollars that would also needed to be in the deal – which we’re working on the NFL on,” Nixon said. “The best way to move forward on the public portion of the financing would be for the city and the state to move forward and lead on that. So we feel like we’re developing and getting very close to a very good plan that’s going to make us competitive.”

Closer to auditor decision

Nixon also told reporters that he’s nearing the final stages of picking the permanent replacement for state Auditor Tom Schweich. 

Spence Jackson
Credit From his LinkedIn page
Spence Jackson

The governor tapped John Watson, his long-time chief of staff, to serve as auditor while he looks for another appointee to serve through 2018. He said that he would not make his decision before the Easter holiday.

“It’s been a quite a month,” Nixon said. “To have one office where you have not only the officeholder, but also a senior member of his staff, take their own life is very emotional for everybody involved. And our thoughts and prayers go out to all their families." 

Nixon’s decision comes after another tumultuous week for the auditor’s office. Schweich’s former spokesman – Spence Jackson – died late last month of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His suicide note expressed a fear of being unemployed.

Watson’s new spokesman, David Luther, told the Associated Press that Schweich’s core staff would keep their jobs under his watch. But he went onto say that new people may be hired in their place once a permanent appointment is made – especially since Nixon will likely pick a Democrat for the post.

Nixon echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.

“It’s important that whoever the next state auditor is has the ability to choose and put together their own senior staff,” Nixon said. “Because the taxpayers are going to hold them accountable for the actions that they do.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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