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MLS stadium legislation breezes through aldermanic panel

MLS stadium legislation breezes through aldermanic panel

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Planned MLS stadium in St. Louis

A view of the planned MLS stadium looking northwest from 20th and Market streets, according to renderings obtained by the Post-Dispatch. The facility is being designed by HOK of St. Louis and Minneapolis-based Julie Snow.

ST. LOUIS — Legislation paving the way for the $461 million pro soccer stadium complex planned for west of Union Station breezed through an aldermanic committee Wednesday after backers spoke and took questions for about 90 minutes.

The two measures, providing partial property tax abatement for the project and outlining other tax incentives, were endorsed, 7-0, by the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee.

One of those “yes” votes was from Alderman Cara Spencer, an outspoken critic of past city aid plans for sports venues.

“I have no doubt it is going to be a benefit to the city,” said Spencer, D-20th Ward. She said not using general city revenue that isn’t generated at the stadium site is very significant.

She added that the new Major League Soccer team’s agreement to own the 22,500-seat stadium and land instead of the city ensures that “there will be no ambiguity” over the team’s responsibility for future maintenance and repairs.

The bills, which now move to the full Board of Aldermen, call for 25 years of property tax abatement on the value of new construction. That’s expected to save the ownership about $34.5 million.

Also planned is a sales tax exemption for building materials used for the project; an estimate has yet to be released for that.

The legislation, sponsored by Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, also calls for two separate one-cent sales taxes on food, drinks, tickets and other items sold at the stadium. They would be levied by new community improvement and transportation development districts.

In addition, ownership attorney Bill Kuehling told the committee that “we are counting on” revenues from a third one-cent sales tax that would be authorized by the city’s Port Authority.

A separate, yet-to-be-introduced bill would first have to be passed to extend the Port Authority’s turf to the stadium site beyond the Mississippi River riverfront. The three sales taxes together would produce more than $21 million over 25 years, Kuehling said.

Reed last week said any such bill this year would not apply citywide but instead would connect the downtown riverfront to the stadium site via the Gateway Mall. A citywide expansion bill failed to win aldermanic approval last year.

Most of the cost of the project, which also includes practice fields and team offices, is to be covered by the ownership group, made up of Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family and World Wide Technology executive Jim Kavanaugh.

Among those speaking for the plan was Linda Martinez, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s top development official.

Jonathan Ferry, a city financial analyst, said city government would get an estimated net revenue boost of nearly $10.4 million over 10 years from taxes at the stadium site and the city public schools would gain about $3.1 million.

Larry Marks, a private analyst hired by the ownership, said the net revenue gain would be higher if related tax revenue from nearby restaurants, hotels and other businesses is figured in. Spencer pressed Marks to provide a detailed breakdown.

Kuehling, the ownership attorney, said the state’s decision not to grant the group’s full $30 million request for tax credits for the project had spurred “a tremendous amount of pencil sharpening and erasing and … looking at things” among the stadium’s designers and architects.

Kuehling said the specifics of any changes due to the state decision has yet to be worked out. “We’ll figure it out,” he said.

State officials indicated that a state aid package of $6 million was possible although city officials have been working to try to win more.

Among other points made at the hearing:

• Julie Snow, an architect on the project, said “the stadium literally has no back door” because truck deliveries will access the facility via a tunnel planned for under Market Street. Access would be near 22nd Street and Clark Avenue, Kuehling said.

• Aloe Plaza Park West, which leads to the stadium site, will remain a city park and any changes in it will require city approval.

• Kuehling said while there could be a “future parking structure” to replace two surface lots that will make way for the project, the stadium’s expected 30 events a year wouldn’t produce enough revenue to justify a garage. He said there already is a large amount of parking to the north and west of the site.

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