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St. Louis convention commission buying long-sought Seventh Street garage

St. Louis convention commission buying long-sought Seventh Street garage

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Convention Center and Dome

FILE PHOTO: The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission has long wanted to purchase this parking garage, as seen on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — The Convention and Visitors Commission will finally acquire a privately owned parking garage stuck almost in the middle of the city’s downtown convention center, after years of trying to convince the garage owners to sell.

A key city financial board on Wednesday approved the sale for $4.9 million, paid for out of about $105 million in bonds the board approved in August as part of a $210 million expansion of the America’s Center. St. Louis County has agreed to fund the other half of the expansion.

The action Wednesday amended that agreement to allow the purchase of the 1960s-era parking garage, which CVC leaders have long eyed. Unable to reach agreements with the owners, a New York financial firm, the convention center has built around the garage on Seventh Street in past expansions.

The city will pay New York-based AFI Investment Company, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Post-Dispatch. If an appraiser chosen by the seller determines the fair market value of the property is higher, the city could also end up covering the difference, the contract says.

Though the CVC has wanted to acquire the garage for years, its $210 million expansion plan — partly to alleviate layout issues caused by the garage — didn’t even include the property. Instead, the city helped the CVC assemble a site for its expansion by acquiring parking lots and another parking garage to the west of the convention center, where it will add exhibit space, revamp loading docks and build an outdoor pavilion at Ninth street and Convention Plaza.

The action Wednesday was the first public indication that negotiations had resumed with the owners of the Seventh Street garage. CVC Director Kitty Ratcliffe told members of the city’s Municipal Finance Corp., the body largely run by Comptroller Darlene Green’s office that has been leading the project, that the garage site would likely become a surface lot in the short term but that owning the land would allow for future development.

“This acquisition is just to get it under control,” Ratcliffe told the board. “We would anticipate, although I think there’s further discussion that needs to happen on this, that this would eventually be demolished.”

Karen Jordan, an attorney with Dentons representing the Municipal Finance Corp., said strong interest from bond buyers provided the extra funds to finance the purchase.

“It did not require the borrowing of any additional funds,” she said. “It did not impact the bond authorization. We just had a very favorable result when we out to the market, which allowed us to move forward.”

The bond issue was delayed for months last year after some members of the Finance Corporation board urged caution as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Both the city and county will contribute about $6 million per year in hotel tax funds to service the debt, payments that are currently paying off the Dome at America’s Center. That arena, built in the ‘90s to house the NFL Rams before they moved back to Los Angeles in 2016, is expected to be paid off this year.

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