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Rec center was promised to north St. Louis County. So what's the holdup?

Rec center was promised to north St. Louis County. So what's the holdup?

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America's Center to undergo major expansion

America's Center unveiled a new project that will add more room and green space to the center. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

CLAYTON — Nearly a year after an announcement that hotel-motel taxes would pay for a north St. Louis County recreation center, there are no concrete plans for its development and there has been scant public discussion about it.

When asked about the status of the project by St. Louis County Councilwoman Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, at a public hearing last week, Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, told her a consultant has been studying what types of activities would best serve the area. But she did not provide further detail.

The recreation center was part of the same agreement between St. Louis County and the CVC signed in April that is helping fund the $175 million upgrade of America’s Center.

Under the plan, first announced in October 2018, the fund used to service the debt issued in 1991 to finance construction of the Dome at America’s Center would be used to service new 40-year bonds issued for the America’s Center expansion. The Dome, which was built for an NFL team, was the home of the St. Louis Rams from 1995 until the team’s departure in 2016.

The Dome debt is set to be paid off in 2021. Last year, the city and county each agreed to raise money for the CVC through separate bond sales, each contributing $6 million a year for four decades to pay off the bonds.

The county generates those revenues from a 3.5% tax on hotel and motel stays that was approved in 1990. The tax was expected to raise about $13.9 million this year, of which $6 million was committed to the Dome, $2.9 million to Busch Stadium and $1.1 million to pay down construction costs of soccer parks at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.

That leaves a balance of $3.7 million this year. Under the agreement reached between the council and CVC last year, 35% of unencumbered hotel-motel tax revenues would forever go toward the recreation center.

If the tax brought in the same amount of revenue next year, it would total about $1.3 million for the rec center.

Since the agreement with the CVC in April, the rec center project has never appeared on the County Council’s agenda.

Last week, the CVC appeared before the council to ask for a $15.3 million advance to pay for design work at America’s Center, instead of the $6 million that had been agreed to.

The county has the sum in reserve from the hotel-motel tax. The county’s bond counsel, Robert D. Klahr, an attorney with the Armstrong Teasdale law firm, told the council that paying cash would allow the county to put off a bond sale for construction until later this year and, most likely, reduce the county’s $6 million annual commitment.

The council on Tuesday approved the request with a 6-1 vote.

In a public hearing before the vote, Days brought up the rec center.

“When is that happening?” she asked Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe said the CVC has hired a consultant that has been studying north St. Louis County to determine what type of recreation was needed.

“They tell me that they’ve got a draft, which I haven’t seen yet, but they have found that there is a real need in one or two particular sports and they’re looking at how to make that work,” Ratcliffe said. “So we anticipate coming back to you with the results of that study fairly soon.”

Asked by a reporter for more information about the consultant or the study on Friday, a CVC spokesman said the “report is not yet complete and is still in progress.”

Days said the development of the rec center was critical to her supporting the CVC’s request for the county to help with financing. She said other areas of the county have more recreational facilities than her district, which includes part or all of 41 municipalities.

“Right now what we have in the 1st District is St. Vincent Park, and it’s minimal in terms of what it offers,” she said.

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