St. Louis lawmakers cautious on soccer stadium plan as financial details remain scarce –

ST. LOUIS • City lawmakers offered lukewarm support Friday for the proposed $200 million Major League Soccer stadium, with many saying they could support the plan only if it goes before voters first.

Much of the lack of enthusiasm results from the scarce details available on how the stadium would be financed.

The plan put forward Thursday by ownership group SC STL calls for private investors to cover at least 60 percent of the stadium’s costs, while voters could be asked to put up $80 million or more toward the 20,000-seat stadium.

The goal set by SC STL is to get a financing plan on the April 2017 ballot. To do that, they would probably have to get it through the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, at least one aldermanic committee and the full Board of Aldermen by Jan. 24.

It’s also possible the Circuit Court could give stadium backers an additional four weeks after the Jan. 24 deadline to put the measure on the ballot.

Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said that unlike the failed endeavor to keep the Rams in St. Louis, this plan would be easier to complete because Major League Soccer was actively supportive of the effort.

“Major League Soccer is working with SC STL, merging ideas together, making sure the benefit to taxpayers would either meet or exceed any kind of city investment,” Crane said.

She added that Slay’s administration was determined not to repeat mistakes of the past, including the team-friendly deal allowing the Rams to opt out of the team’s lease, leaving the city with a dome and no football team.

City leaders and “this ownership group have learned from the mistakes of its predecessor,” she said.

“And that was a ‘If you build it, they will come’ scenario,” she said. “This is not that. We are not building this without a commitment from an MLS team.”

And building it will almost certainly require a major influx of public money in the form of a tax — most likely a sales tax or a parking tax or some sort of tax-increment financing package.

If it’s a tax, it would have to be approved by voters. That would give aldermen plenty of cover to pass a stadium financing bill and then let city residents vote it up or down.

A number of aldermen said they expected this process to be markedly easier than the effort to keep the Rams in St. Louis.

But with scant details available, aldermen, including three mayoral candidates, were cautious in their comments Friday.

“I can’t say whether I support something until I see it,” Board President Lewis Reed said. “I’ll say that whatever is presented to us has to have a financial structure that protects the taxpayers and enhances the city as a whole.”

If the effort is successful, Reed said, he hopes having an MLS franchise in the city will boost youth soccer programs.

Alderman Lyda Krewson, 28th Ward, also said she hadn’t taken a position because she hadn’t seen the financial details.

“What I can say is that I like soccer, but I think we need to be careful with public subsidies,” she said.

Alderman Antonio French, 21st Ward, said he’d be more excited about the plan if it were 100 percent privately financed.

“I’ll look at it, but the people I talk to don’t think this should be the priority,” he said. “The people I talk to want public funding going into their neighborhoods to improve their quality of life. They are sick and tired of public money going to the richest parts of town.”

Developer Paul McKee also weighed in on the plan on Friday. His expansive NorthSide Regeneration project extends to Market Street, just north of the proposed stadium site.

McKee said he had yet to discuss the stadium project with prospective MLS team owners. But he called the idea of a soccer stadium across Market from his redevelopment area “a great idea.”

He said he was familiar with European soccer stadiums that are typically part of a community. A St. Louis stadium should have such a role, he said.

McKee’s NorthSide plan for the area across Market from the proposed stadium site calls for stores, offices and residences.

Tim Bryant of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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