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Government, Politics & Issues

Comptroller votes against financing package for new NFL stadium

After heated debate, Alderman Sharon Tyus, D-1st, left, voted against the stadium funding bill, while Aldermen Antonio French, D-21st, center, and Jack Coatar, D-7th, voted for.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
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After heated debate, Alderman Sharon Tyus, D-1st, left, voted against the stadium funding bill, while Aldermen Antonio French, D-21st, center, and Jack Coatar, D-7th, voted for.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with Board of Estimate and Apportionment vote - St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green voted against the stadium financing deal Wednesday afternoon as expected.

The comptroller is a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, along with the mayor and president of the Board of Aldermen. Mayor Francis Slay and President Lewis Reed both voted for the deal.Green, the city’s chief financial officer, said the stadium agreement wasn’t fiscally responsible.

She said current game-day revenues provide about $4 million annually, leaving the city to pay $2 million out of general revenue to pay for the Edward Jones Dome’s annual $6 million debt.

"We suspect that we'll be dipping into the general revenue even more that the one-third we are now," Green said following the meeting.

The comptroller said furthermore, the agreement provides no certainty of what the city’s game-day revenue will be or what further costs the city may have for the $1 billion stadium.

The Board of Aldermen is expected to take a final vote on the stadium bill on Friday. 

Original story - A proposed NFL stadium on the riverfront north of Laclede’s Landing is a step closer to reality.

Aldermen gave the city’s portion of the financing plan initial approval on Tuesday by a 17-10 vote. They will be back in session Friday afternoon to send the measure to Mayor Francis Slay.

“I think passing this bill today is a big step in showing the NFL that we’re serious about maintaining our football team and being an NFL city,” said Alderman Jack Coatar, a Democrat from the 7th Ward and a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The funding

As Jason Rosenbaum has reported before, the vast majority of the financing for the more than $1-billion project comes from private sources. The city would be required to make anywhere from $4.5 million to $9 million a year in bond payments, and some event-related tax revenue would also be used.

Many opponents of the plan remained unconvinced that the city’s contribution wouldn’t go up.

Alderman Tom Villa, standing, chats with Alderman Scott Ogilvie as their colleagues debate the stadium financing bill Dec. 15, 2015.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo
Ald. Tom Villa (standing) chats with Ald. Scott Ogilvie as their colleagues debate the stadium financing bill on December 15, 2015.

  “These things require the suspensions of common sense to believe if we look at what realistic financial projections are for the facility, how the NFL tends to treat cities,” said Democrat Scott Ogilvie of the 24th Ward. “We’re spending a lot more money on this facility than we spent on the Edward Jones Dome, and I don’t think there’s any legitimate way to deny that.”

During an exchange with Coatar, the bill’s sponsor, former state Rep. and 11th Ward Democrat Tom Villa asked who would be responsible for maintaining the facility and the surrounding infrastructure.

“The team,” Coatar responded. “I doubt that,” Villa replied.

As a former state representative, Villa was also highly skeptical that the GOP-controlled legislature would agree to appropriate state money. The financing plan assumes the state will issue, and pay off, $151 million in bonds.

“If the state doesn’t put up the money, we’re not building a stadium, okay?” said Alderman Steve Conway, the 8th Ward Democrat and an accountant. “If the NFL doesn’t come, we’re not building the stadium. This is not the Field of Dreams. We will only build it if they come.”

The votes

The final result was not a surprise, though some of the supporters were.

“I know how to count votes,” said 21st ward Democrat Antonio French, who had once threatened a filibuster if the city did not have a comprehensive crime plan. “And so what I have chosen to do over the last few weeks is to use my time and resources to make the best possible bill.”

French was instrumental in securing a multi-faceted minority inclusion program that has some enforcement mechanisms. And on Tuesday, the mayor unveiled a comprehensive crime-fighting plan that French helped negotiate.

Alderman Sam Moore, a Democrat from the 4th Ward, was also a surprising yes vote.

“I don’t care if the stadium gets built, and I don’t think it will,” he said. “This is a just in case vote so maybe I can get some jobs.”

Many opponents were determined to try and change minds, or to make a point, pushing debate to nearly five hours.

“I love the idea of having an open-air stadium on the riverfront that could potentially lure an MLS team,” said Democrat Shane Cohn, the 25th Ward alderman. “I love the idea of creating thousands of jobs for my brothers and sisters that are working in unions. However, I don’t see efforts being made to actually address the systemic issues that are pervasive throughout our city right now, and I don’t think this a panacea pill that’s going to correct any of that.” 

A protester holds a sign as she listens to debate at the Board of Aldermen on December 15, 2015. Others were gaveled down for outbursts, and at least one received a summons for peace disturbance.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
A protester holds a sign as she listens to debate at the Board of Aldermen on December 15, 2015. Others were gaveled down for outbursts, and at least one received a summons for peace disturbance.

15th Ward AlderwomanMegan-Ellyia Green took nearly 45 minutes to read the results of several reviews and studies she and colleague Christine Ingrassia had asked sports economists to conduct before she was gaveled down for being out of order. Sharon Tyus, the 1st Ward Democrat, and Villa engaged in a mini-filibuster for about 30 minutes. 

Board president Lewis Reed gaveled down protesters in the gallery several times for outbursts. At least one was issued a summons for general peace disturbance.  

NFL owners are expected to vote next month on whether the St. Louis Rams can relocate to the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, Calif., and are urging city leaders to submit a final funding plan.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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