Gov. Eric Greitens says he’s receptive to having Missouri’s transportation department spruce up state land to make way for a professional soccer stadium in St. Louis.
His remarks during a news conference Thursday in Jefferson City appear to be his most direct response regarding the critical state involvement with the proposed stadium, which is on land owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation. For months, Greitens has spoken out against using taxpayer money to build stadiums.
“Anybody’s who’s willing to and excited about bringing private investment to the state of Missouri — I’m ready and willing to work with them,” he said. “And if we’re in a situation where we have public land and MoDOT can make infrastructure improvements to that land, [I'm] absolutely willing to sit down with folks and talk about the kind of infrastructure investments that we need to make” — a reference to site work that could cost millions of dollars.
The governor seemed ready to express this sentiment in late January, according to several emails St. Louis Public Radio obtained through an open records request. In those emails is a draft of a social media post in reaction to the Board of Aldermen passing a soccer ballot item, reading in part: “Like any good landlord, we’d clean it up before they arrive, but not a penny of state money will go into their pockets.”
Greitens’ spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a question of why the statement was never posted on social media, where the governor regularly puts announcements.
Yet, the newly public stance may make things easier for proponents of bringing Major League Soccer to St. Louis — especially if city voters approve two ballot initiatives aimed at devoting taxpayer funds to the proposed facility.
The Board of Aldermen in January approved a ballot item that could shift money from an increase in the city’s use tax to the proposed soccer stadium. That measure included language requiring the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission 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.
MoDOT spokesman Bob Brendel has said the commission voted last fall to enter into negotiations with the St. Louis to “reach a fair-market price for the land in question within two years.”
Greitens said Thursday he hadn’t seen a proposal to sell the MoDOT land, but added that, “if there was a situation where there was state land that we wanted to rent to a private investor who’s going to bring jobs – all of those things are on the table” to bring about “more jobs and higher pay.”
During his campaign and the changeover in power, Greitens expressed strong opposition to using taxpayer money to build sports facilities, which he reiterated Thursday.
“I do not believe in using taxpayer money to build stadiums,” he said. “And I don’t believe in using taxpayer money to build a stadium for soccer in St. Louis.”
While Greitens doesn’t directly control the transportation commission, his public views on the matter aren’t unimportant. For example, the Missouri Development Finance Board scrapped plans to issue tax credits for the stadium after Greitens objected.
'Not a penny of state money'
Greitens’ staffers first received the social media post draft Jan. 19. That was the day the stadium ballot item initially failed in a Board of Aldermen committee, which may explain why it wasn’t publicly released. That same day, Greitens spokesman Parker Briden sent a short statement to The Associated Press, saying the “governor remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.”
The social media post was to highlight how Greitens' statements derailed efforts to secure tax credits for the project. It also touched on the transportation commission’s involvement in the project:
Briden again emailed the post to his colleagues on Jan. 26 — the day the ballot measure was passed out of committee. But it was never posted on Facebook or Twitter.
State involvement in any stadium is still a long way off. St. Louis voters would first have to to approve two ballot initiatives on April 4 to allow taxpayer money to go toward building a stadium. Plus, Major League Soccer must to award one of four expansion franchises to St. Louis; 12 cities are in the running.
Marshall Griffin in Jefferson City contributed to this report.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum