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Nixon on public stadium spending: "It's the price of doing business"

Nixon on public stadium spending: "It's the price of doing business"

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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday that St. Louis can become “major league” if it combines public financing with private cash to bring a soccer stadium to a large undeveloped area near Union Station.

“Folks may want to anguish a little bit over all this sort of stuff, but it’s the price of doing business,” Nixon said in a meeting with Post-Dispatch reporters downtown. “And quite frankly, we’re getting in, relative to what other areas of have done, so much more cost-effectively here.”

Nixon’s emphasis on the issue follows Gov.-elect Eric Greitens’ statement Monday that he opposes public financing for professional sports stadiums.

Greitens’ statement resulted in the local ownership group SC STL pulling its request for $40 million in state tax credits Tuesday just hours before the state Development Finance Board was going to vote on it. It’s one part of a public financing plan for a stadium that includes St. Louis voters potentially approving $80 million for the $200 million, 22,000-seat stadium.

Nixon wouldn’t comment on whether he talked to Greitens about the soccer stadium proposal. Nixon said he does not know the status of the ownership group’s attempts to meet with Greitens to win his support.

“Everybody backed up a couple steps this last week,” Nixon said. “I think there’s ways to move forward.”

Owners don’t currently have a Plan B for funding if the state tax credits don’t come through. It’s possible the board could reconsider the proposal at a special meeting in the next two weeks before Nixon leaves office, but if not then it would likely be decided by a board of Greitens appointees in early 2017.

If a financing plan doesn’t come together, Nixon said it may be a decade or more before the city could be a part of Major League Soccer. Ownership group applications are due to the league in January, and the league’s 25th and 26th expansion teams will be announced later in 2017.

The league plans to expand to 28 teams, but the timeline for teams 27 and 28 are yet to be determined. With expansion fees going up to $150 million, it’s possible the 27th and 28th teams could pay up to $200 million.

SC STL has said it would pay the league fee as well as $80 million on the stadium and for any cost overruns and for site maintenance over the next 30 years.

“If we’re going to sit around the table and complain about this little part of the deal or that little part of the deal, then the $250 million to $300 million in private money that’s going to be invested will go somewhere else,” Nixon said, “and that site will sit there looking the way it is.”

In addition to $40 million in state tax credits, stadium supporters want St. Louis voters to approve up to $80 million in funding for the $200 million stadium.

The city would buy the undeveloped 24-acre site from the state, own the stadium and lease it to the team for 30 years under the current proposal.

Nixon took issue with Greitens and other critics suggesting the process for securing public funds hasn’t been transparent. Greitens called it “back room wheeling and dealing” in his Monday statement.

“Most people that complain about reading this stuff don’t read it,” Nixon said of some wanting to further vet the tax credit proposal. “They filed the application with MDFB. Those are public documents. People want to look at it they can look at it.

“Three weeks, four weeks, if they had six weeks does that somehow make it different?”

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