St. Louis' Board of Alderman voted to approve up to $17 million in public subsidies to finance Ballpark Village, that oft-delayed development where you were supposed to watch the Cardinals take the World Series a year ago. Ah the best laid schemes of land developers and public officials...
The deal passed this morning 25-2, with two alderman abstaining, but not before some verbal sparring over just how fat David Freese's paycheck should be.
Ald. Scott Oglivie of Ward 24 said that while Ballpark Village won't be bad for St. Louis, he's wary of supporting a plan that makes the rich richer.
"Lets just be clear-eyed about what it does. It's a subsidy for the very rich that'll create low-paying jobs, generate some spin-off revenue for the city, and solve a frustrating problem we have downtown," Oglivie said, noting that he was uncomfortable that the jobs created by the project will pay just over minimum wage, while guaranteeing Cardinals players $3 million paychecks each year.
The open lot adjacent to Busch Stadium will become a mixed-use retail, business, entertainment and residential district with an estimated final budget of $700 million. The Cardinals, in partnership with Cordish Companies, hope to break ground in September 2012 on the first phase of the project, a two-block district of restaurants, an event plaza and Cardinals Hall of Fame. The projected cost for this phase is $100 million, which will be funded by bonds.
Several alderman took exception when Oglivie suggested the Cardinals reduce their payroll by 10 percent for a year or so to finance the development themselves.
Ald. Joseph Roddy of Ward 17, said "this populist drivel about us giving millionaires more money" is unproductive.
"The reality is St. Louis is used by the region as a place to celebrate. We used to be a place to practice law. We used to be a place to manufacture things but the reality is we are a place that does fewer and fewer things now.... but we are still a place where folks go to celebrate," Roddy said, adding that the city needs to move forward with plans that play to St. Louis' strengths. "It's time for us to deal with the real world and support projects like this."
Yesterday, the Missouri Downtown Economic Stimulus Authority approved $17 million in subsidies from the sale of tax-backed bonds for the project. Angela Banks, budget officer for St. Louis Public Schools, was the only member of the board to abstain after expressing concerns that funding the project would come at the expense of the city's budget for education.
The Board of Alderman will take a final vote next week. After that the incentive package for the first phase will head to the Missouri Development Finance Board for the project's last green light before Cordish can break ground. Representatives from Cordish said that if all goes to plan, they hope to complete construction by Spring 2014.