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St. Louis weighs pros and cons of NFL stadium funding

Marketplace Contributor Dec 2, 2015

St. Louis weighs pros and cons of NFL stadium funding

Marketplace Contributor Dec 2, 2015

It’s a familiar tale: a National Football League owner gets mad about the condition of the local football stadium, and threatens to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. Now, it’s happening in St. Louis.

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced about a year ago plans to build a shiny new stadium in Inglewood, Calif., which prompted many to assume that the NFL’s days in the Gateway City are numbered. But relocation decisions fall to NFL owners, a group that may be squeamish about approving a move if a city possesses a viable stadium proposal.

That’s where former Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock comes in. He’s helped develop a plan to build a roughly $1 billion stadium on a drab section of St. Louis’ riverfront, which would be funded with a combination of state, local and private dollars, as well as a portion of “game day” related taxes from stadium parking, concession stands and ticket sales.

While Peacock and others have touted the economic benefits to building the facility, there’s also regional pride at stake – especially since St. Louis has already lost a professional football team when the Cardinals left St. Louis for Phoenix back in the 1980s.

“We can’t keep losing things. We can’t keep being a city going backwards,” Peacock said. “And I believe building is better than letting dilapidated areas stay the way they are.”

Former Anheuser Busch President Dave Peacock speaks at a press conference unveiling the naming rights for St. Louis’ proposed football stadium. Peacock is part of a task force trying to build support for the $1 billion project.

One hurdle in getting the proposed stadium off the ground is for the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to approve a stadium financing package. St. Louis Alderman Tammika Hubbard sees the measure a chance to create construction jobs, revitalize a part of the riverfront and keep a wildly successful professional sport anchored in the city.

“We’re a sports town and people are just excited to continue to have a team in St. Louis,” she said.     

But not everybody likes the idea of forking over public money for the stadium.

Some aldermen are upset that the proposal isn’t being put up for a public vote, especially since the stadium would require bond payments for more than 30 years. And St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said the plan doesn’t allow the city to keep enough stadium revenues to pay off the project’s costs.

“This is not a fiscally responsible plan as it has been presented to the Board at this time,” Green said. “It does not have enough revenues. As a matter of fact, the revenues are very short. And there’s a material gap that’s created between revenue and expenditures that go out each and every year as you can see.”

Jeanette Mott Oxford, the executive director of the social welfare organization Empower Missouri, speaks at a St. Louis Board of Aldermen meeting. Oxford is a longtime critics of publicly-financing stadiums.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s staffer, Nahuel Fefer, pointed out that the budgetary gap shrinks when accounting for sales taxes that go to schools, public transit and parks. But former state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, who now runs a social welfare group, wonders if the project is an example of skewed priorities – especially with major crime and poverty problems afflicting the city.

“I think that sports makes a lot of money and that they should have to pay to carry out their own projects, like a coffee shop would if they wanted to add an extra room or put new carpeting or curtains in,” said Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri. 

Ultimately, any relocation requires a sign off from the NFL’s owners. And their decision could come down to whether city leaders believe the benefits of the NFL outweigh the public cost. 

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