St. Louis hasn’t given up on major league soccer.
An official in Gov. Mike Parson’s office told the Post-Dispatch that officials with the state Department of Economic Development met with Major League Soccer representatives as recently as Tuesday, and that the Parson administration was interested in working on a stadium proposal.
The Parson official did not immediately know which St. Louis sites were under consideration nor how many times state officials had met with MLS representatives. The official had no information on construction plans, timelines or who else might be involved with discussions.
A DED spokeswoman said the department “cannot comment on active negotiations.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson confirmed there was still local interest in the MLS.
“I know there is a group trying to bring a team here,” Krewson said in a statement. “We are hopeful that it will come to fruition. It’s a complex process and it’s too early to comment right now.”
The meeting with state officials follows a recent statement by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber that St. Louis remained a potential expansion team city, even after voters in April 2017 rejected public funding for a stadium.
Earlier this month, Garber talked about league expansion and once again put St. Louis in the mix, saying the city has “been floating around a little bit” as a potential city to get one of two new teams.
It’s likely to be the beginning of another drawn-out process in which MLS officials seek to engage with municipal leaders about potentially helping to fund a soccer stadium to pave the way for a team.
St. Louis, of course, is familiar with the narrative.
The city was broadly seen as one of the strongest contenders to land one of the soccer league’s first two expansion teams. But the league last year chose Nashville and Cincinnati, leaving the door open for two additional expansion cities.
St. Louis’ previous bid, led by an ownership group that included area businessmen Dave Peacock and Jim Kavanaugh along with Boston businessman Paul Edgerley, was largely undone by St. Louis voters who rejected a use tax on businesses to help fund a downtown soccer stadium. The facility would have been built just west of Union Station on land that is now the 22nd Street exit off Highway 40 (Interstate 64).
Garber, in his most recent comments, also mentioned Detroit, San Diego, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Phoenix as cities the league is still considering.
“We’ll engage with all of those cities but we don’t have any hierarchy or pecking order, if you will, because it kinda moves around, where they are with their discussions with their specific stadiums, how their ownership groups are coming together and how it all kinda plays out with a well-rounded league for us, in terms of covering as much of the country and Canada as we can,” he told The Tennessean newspaper.
The league in 2015 announced plans to expand to 28 teams. Nashville and Cincinnati were teams 25 and 26. Garber previously said he was “confident” St. Louis would get an expansion team in the league if the stadium got public financing.
“We continue to believe that with the right ownership group, stadium plan and support from the corporate community, St. Louis could be a successful Major League Soccer market,” MLS Executive Vice President Dan Courtemanche said in a statement Wednesday.
The previous St. Louis ownership group, called SC STL, had offered to pay $95 million to help build a 22,000-seat soccer stadium, as well as cover any maintenance and operations costs for 30 years, plus a $150 million fee to the MLS for the expansion franchise. Public funding would have totaled $60 million.
More than half of city voters rejected the ballot proposition that would have provided the public’s portion of the stadium financing plan.
‘A collective effort’
It’s unclear who would be part of an ownership group for a new plan brewing for a soccer stadium in St. Louis. “I’d say that the League would love to be here and that the (stadium) site identified still sits vacant,” Peacock told the Post-Dispatch. “Beyond that, it’s all I know.”
The Taylor family, owners of Clayton-based rental car giant Enterprise Holdings, has been a big backer of sports efforts in St. Louis in recent years. In May, Enterprise landed naming rights for the former Scottrade Center — home of the St. Louis Blues NHL hockey team — and the facility was renamed Enterprise Center.
One of Enterprise’s car rental brands, National Car Rental, was to be the moniker on a riverfront football stadium proposed in 2015 that never materialized.
Asked whether the Taylor family is part of revived efforts for a soccer stadium in St. Louis, Enterprise spokeswoman Laura Bryant said in an email to the Post-Dispatch: “St. Louis has a rich soccer tradition and history. Of course we’d love for the city to get a soccer team and are among the many people who believe the city would benefit from having one here. But to do so will take a concerted and collective effort by a number of people and organizations, so it is premature to comment on any specific efforts to do so.”
A city economic development arm’s option to purchase the downtown site where the last stadium proposal was planned is close to expiring. An affiliate for the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority entered a two-year option agreement with the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in September 2016 to buy some 30 acres west of Union Station.
Garber, the MLS commissioner, has said the league likes downtown stadiums, and the Missouri Department of Transportation land that the prior stadium backers had hoped to build on is likely to become available when an anticipated new interchange is built at Jefferson Avenue and Highway 40 (Interstate 64). The project is one the city has committed to in order to help traffic flow from the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency north of downtown.