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Nixon defends stadium project, says no vote needed

Nixon defends stadium project, says no vote needed

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ST. LOUIS • The proposed riverfront football stadium here is an economic development project and doesn’t require a vote of the public or of the Legislature, Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday.

Moreover, he warned that Missouri’s AAA credit rating would be damaged if some Legislators follow through on their threat to block debt payments needed to fund a new stadium.

“I don’t think anyone wants to ultimately risk the bond rating of the state of Missouri,” Nixon said in his most substantive defense yet of the new stadium effort. “You’ve got to pay your bills.”

A lot has to happen before that becomes an issue, Nixon said. National Football League owners would have to vote to keep a team in St. Louis. That team would have to contribute $450 million, including NFL loans, to the project, and sign a long-term lease. And Nixon would have to authorize $135 million in bonds to cover the state’s share of the stadium construction cost.

Even if Nixon’s stadium task force gets everything done and on time, there’s no guarantee, the governor said, that NFL owners will decide to keep a team in St. Louis.

“I’m a lawyer by trade,” he said from his office in the Wainwright Building downtown. “Guarantees are written documents. There’s no guarantees in any of this.”

Still, he added: “If we let a few bumps in the road stop us, it dramatically enhances the risk that the riverfront’s not going to get redeveloped.”

Nixon became involved more than two years ago, after negotiations between the Rams and local officials stalled, and arbitrators ruled that the Edward Jones Dome had to pay as much as $700 million in facility upgrades.

Local officials refused and began planning an alternative. In November, Nixon appointed former Anheuser-Busch executive Dave Peacock and Dome attorney Bob Blitz to develop plans for a new stadium.

Not two months later, Peacock and Blitz proposed a $1 billion, open-air stadium on the Mississippi riverfront, just north of downtown. Rams owner Stan Kroenke was, meanwhile, planning a $1.9 billion stadium in Inglewood, Calif., an announcement that solidified fears that Kroenke wanted his Rams in Los Angeles.

Nixon and his task force have since bullied their way through opposition. Instead of holding a public vote in St. Louis County, as required by the county’s charter, Nixon removed the county’s financial support. Instead of a vote in the city, the Jones Dome board chairman — appointed by Nixon — authorized a lawsuit, and won.

And instead of asking the Legislature to approve state bonds, Nixon’s staff declared that he has the legal right to issue bonds without Legislative approval. “This is not an indication of what we’re going to do,” said Doug Nelson, Office of Administration commissioner, in January. “This is an indication that we believe we have that authority.”

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, bristled again on Thursday at the suggestion. “If he thinks it’s going to hurt his credit rating, then I would advise him not to do it,” Schaaf said of Nixon. “We have already said we will not pay on bonds.”

But Nixon said he has no plans to seek Legislative approval. This is an economic development project, he repeated Thursday. He doesn’t seek Legislative or voter approval for business expansion, he said, or factory construction.

“If we don’t do this, there is no other project that’s going to knock out 50 dilapidated buildings and build a world-class facility there,” he said. “There’s nothing else in the queue.”

Besides, he said, the Legislature had all session this year to do something, and couldn’t get anything done, he said.

“To say, just because some economic development deal may have some controversy to it, that you should feather in there yet another local hurdle,” he said. “Economic development deals are hard enough to do.”

Nixon said that his task force is on target.

The governor has been meeting with owners and NFL executives. He regularly talks with Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, who sits on the owners Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities. He met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York on Wednesday.

And Nixon said they all have the same message: You’re making progress. You’re meeting timelines. You have exceeded expectations.

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