Turns Out St. Louis Was Right to Reject Public Financing for a Soccer Stadium

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SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE
  • SCREENSHOT VIA YOUTUBE

"Get off your ass." That was the message delivered by Dave Peacock to the crowd of soccer fans and investors gathered in a hotel ballroom in April 2017, mere minutes after St. Louis voters conclusively rejected a proposal to funnel $60 million in public funds to a stadium for a professional soccer team.

Peacock, a partner in the project rejected by voters, seemed to target those opposed to the tax giveaway as naysayers to the very concept of progress.

"It doesn’t have to be soccer," Peacock said at the time. "It could be whatever you want. But to me, people sit on the sidelines, chirp and bitch, and they don’t do anything."

In a way, St. Louis listened to Peacock's advice, though perhaps not in the manner he had intended. On Tuesday, a new ownership group announced plans to build a $250 million soccer stadium on the same site featured in the failed 2017 bid, land just west of Union Station in downtown. This time, the proposal includes no public funding — and no Dave Peacock.



Instead, the ownership group, known as #MLS4THELOU, is composed of members of the Taylor family, which founded the car rental giant Enterprise Holdings, as well as Jim Kavanaugh, the CEO of World Wide Technology and a major backer of the failed 2017 bid.

The plan calls for no public buy-in on the stadium, though it does include a sales tax on stadium concessions and exemptions to the city property tax and ticket tax.

Still, that means no tax increment financing and no tax hike affecting anyone other than those who choose to attend soccer games. While #MLS4THELOU is seeking state tax credits, the amount hasn't been specified — though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a previous version of the ownership group's website listed amounts at $15 million in the next two years.

And the ownership group is groundbreaking for another reason: Women make up the majority of the nine owners. That's a rarity in the male-dominated world of sports, and would be the first such group in Major League Soccer.

St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson, a soccer scarf wrapped around her shoulders, praised the deal and the Taylor family at a press conference yesterday.

"Your commitment to this plan, with no contribution from city-wide revenues, and no [tax-increment financing], is a great proposal for the city, for MLS, for tax-payers and for our fans," she said. "The city will collect almost a millions and a half dollars in additional revenue revenue per-year from this venue."

But the fact that this plan even exists should put to rest what critics considered the central deception of the 2017 push: That public money was the only way to get a professional sports team to consider St. Louis.

Indeed, the 2017 ownership group, helmed by Peacock, repeatedly emphasized that public buy-in was the only path forward, and maintained that $60 million in public funds were absolutely necessary to satisfy the league. The league's commissioner, Don Garber, added to the pressure, remarking on a conference call that a public vote on the monetary outlay would represent a "referendum" on whether the city really wanted a team.

That line of argument angered city watchdogs. It didn't help when the ownership group made the misleading claim that the plan would foist "zero taxes" on city residents who didn't use the stadium — conveniently ignoring the fact that a diversion of millions of tax dollars would be going from city services to stadium construction.

In almost every way, the #MLS4THELOU proposal reads like a mea culpa, not only for 2017's failed soccer stadium push, but for St. Louis' recent history of stadium boondoggles. Just three years ago, the city was contemplating giving the NFL's Rams a billion-dollar riverfront stadium using $150 million in public funds. And earlier this year, tension over repairs for the Blues' stadium — recently renamed the Enterprise Center — triggered a legal fight with the city's comptroller.

In contrast, #MLS4THELOU is reportedly in talks to create a fund to pay for future upkeep and repairs at its stadium. And unlike the failed attempt at keeping the Rams, there'll be no need for aldermen to reject the opportunity for a public vote. As no general revenue funds would go to the proposed soccer stadium, no vote is needed.

There are plenty of questions left to be answered, and if previous stadium plans are any indicator, it's likely that dollar amounts and details may shift in the coming months. There's also the MLS to consider. The league is still considering candidates for its expansion to 28 teams, and St. Louis is no shoo-in, though it appears to be a front-runner.

The bottom line, though, is that St. Louis dodged a scammy sports bullet in 2017 when citizens rejecting a sales pitch based on the bad-faith notion that a sports stadium deserves public subsidy.

Dave Peacock was wrong. We didn't need to get off our asses. We just needed a more generous ownership group — and this time, it looks like we've got one.

And, yeah, maybe even $1 hotdogs, too.


Consider us cautiously intrigued. And hungry.


Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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