St. Louis aldermen gave their stamp of approval Friday for two major public investments in sports-related facilities.
The more certain, and contentious, of the two investments will pour more than $100 million over 30 years into the Scottrade Center, which is the home of the St. Louis Blues. Voters have no say on the issue, which will upgrade the city-owned facility with new permafrost and piping for the Blues’ hockey rink, improved lighting, sound system enhancements and concession stand improvements.
Some of the money will come from a 1 percent tax levied within the Scottrade Center, while other financing will come from city general revenue dollars.
But when a bill from Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who is also running for mayor, went through committee, aldermen made two big changes. Once the city is finished paying off other bonds, it would redirect yearly payments toward funding the hockey arena improvements. The other is a 5 percent tax on tickets that’s being used to pay off debt on the Peabody Opera House.
Supporters of Reed’s bill say the Scottrade Center needs substantial renovations to keep up with arenas in other cities. During a press conference earlier this year, members of the St. Louis Blues’ ownership stressed that without significant repairs, the city would lose out on major events – and, in turn, lose revenue.
“The facility’s 20-plus years old,” said 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar, who was among 17 people who voted for the legislation. “It is a city-owned building. And we have an obligation to provide for its maintenance and upkeep. And unfortunately over the years, the city has not done that.”
But detractors questioned whether it made sense to spend lots of money on the Scottrade Center, given the city’s problems with crime and infrastructure. Alderman Joe Roddy, D-17th Ward, said they should have waited until city voters choose a new mayor.
“There is no urgency right here,” Roddy said. “We’ll have a new mayor. Maybe they’ll have a fresh relationship with the [St. Louis County] executive. They might be able to pick up the phone. And let’s start thinking of this stuff regionally.”
Soccer stadium plan moves forward
The soccer stadium funding is not a sure thing, because voters have to approve two separate ballot initiatives for city funding for the project to be a possibility.
If those ballot items pass in April, about $50 million from an increase in the use tax would go toward the stadium. The city would also contribute up to $10 million from 50 percent of the sales tax revenues generated in the project site. And, among other things, an amusement tax on tickets will help pay for the facility.
Alderman Christine Ingrassia said the city is getting a good deal out of the financing plan. The 6th Ward Democrat also emphasized that the potential soccer team’s ownership group plans to invest in a host of different projects outside the stadium’s walls.
“And that benefits agreement will address the exact things that we’re talking about here today with respect to minority and women-owned business participation, targeted workforce development, environmentally sustainable building practices, youth development and a number of other issues,” Ingrassia said.
Still, detractors of the soccer stadium proposal have pointed out that the use tax typically goes to things like affordable housing and public safety programs. And Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, said that investing in a soccer stadium may not be the right for St. Louis.
“No matter how many fancy stadiums are built, no matter how pretty they are, this city will continually be known for its crime and its murder rate if that is high,” Kennedy said. “And that alone will keep these kind of projects from reaching the lofty goals that they have set forward.”
St. Louis is competing with a number of other cities in snagging one of four possible Major League Soccer franchises. Passage of the ballot initiatives will likely be critical for the city to stay in the mix.
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