Lawsuit threat seeks St. Louis vote on public financing for new stadium
The supervisor of St. Louis University's civil litigation clinic is threatening legal action to force a public vote in St. Louis over a proposed nearly $1 billion riverfront football stadium.
It’s a move that reflects the growing demand for some sort of vote to approve the proposed stadium’s public financing.
SLU law clinic officials representing St. Louis resident William White sent a letter this week to St. Louis Counselor Winston Calvert. The letter describes White as a fan of the St. Louis Rams, but adds that he would like to see city resources go to help the homeless – especially since he used to be homeless.
“As a formerly homeless individual, he wants to ensure that the city complies with its own city code before it commits to using an enormous amount of public funding for the proposed stadium project on the north St. Louis riverfront, the projected intended for use by an NFL team,” the letter states.
The “city code” mentioned in the letter is a voter-approved ordinance requiring a public vote in the city to allow public assistance for stadiums. Since the stadium's backers have proposed extending bonds for the Edward Jones Dome to pay for the new facility, there’s been some ambiguity about whether the ordinance even applies in this situation.
The letter states that White “believes there should be a discussion of how the community can address serious human needs, while it also considers spending hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds for the stadium project.” If the city doesn’t respond before April 12, White’s attorneys will advise him “to take all appropriate legal action.”
Law clinic director John Ammann said it’s important to determine whether a vote on the stadium is in fact, especially as the Rams consider moving to the Los Angeles area.
“What we’re trying to do is move up the timeline,” Ammann said. “There can’t be litigation 12 months from now on whether there should be a public vote. We need a public vote now. And if the city doesn’t think there needs to be one, maybe we need have to have a judge decide whether there needs to be one or not.”
Elected officials from both parties are increasingly demanding to have some vote on any public money for the proposed stadium. That includes state lawmakers like state Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and city officials like Alderwoman Donna Baringer, D-16th Ward.
While a similar county charter amendment may not have required a vote to extend bonds for the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was adamant about having one anyway. That may have been a big reason the county won’t contribute to funding the new stadium.
“We clearly need the city’s money if we’re going to do the stadium,” Ammann said. “So what we’re encouraging the city to do is embrace the public vote. Schedule a hearing, schedule a vote, have the backers put some money into the election and convince the city voters that it’s the right thing to do. If we did that in June, wouldn’t that be a better way to go to the NFL to say ’80 percent of the people voting approve this?’”
'The letter itself was silly'
Jeff Rainford is St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's advisor on the stadium issue. He described Ammann's letter as a "silly" attempt to tackle a legitimate issue about the stadium's financing.
"He went out and found somebody he said used to be homeless," Rainford said. "And then said the city should spend more money on homelessness. If he would have checked, he would have found out that the city spends more money on people who are homeless than the rest of the region combined. It’s well over $14 million per year."
"So the whole thing is contrived and ill-informed," he said. "And that’s why I say it’s silly."
While emphasizing that the public financing for the stadium was still in flux, Rainford said that Slay supports a public vote if the facility's paid for with a general sales tax or a general fee. He said the mayor would make an exception for revenue developed through "game day experience," adding that "if you don't want to pay for the stadium, don't go to the game."
Rainford said there are issues with timing that may make a public vote on the stadium a difficult proposition. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month that owners may consider L.A. stadium proposals later this year.
"The fact of the matter is: If you subject it to a vote – which by the way, I think we would win – the timing of it would be such that you couldn’t get it done to save pro football in St. Louis," Rainford said. "So you’d have your vote and you win and it would be a pyrrhic victory because you wouldn’t have a team. That is a fear."
"Now, there’s an argument against that," he added. "But that is certainly the fear."