ST. LOUIS • As the proposed $1 billion riverfront football stadium becomes a memory, big-ticket upgrades to two downtown facilities will soon tug at the public purse.
On Friday, officials from the St. Louis Blues and the regional St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission met with city and county leaders about the future of the Scottrade Center and the city’s convention center complex, discussing renovations that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, although a firm price tag isn’t known.
The meeting, at the St. Louis County government building in Clayton, included wish lists for the two large-scale venues, but no official proposals. Renovation of Scottrade Center — the home of the hockey club and the site of other sporting events and countless concerts — is expected to top $100 million, city officials said.
A separate remodel of America’s Center would probably cost well over $120 million, leaders said. And the attached Edward Jones Dome, which the St. Louis Rams vacated to move to California, will need upgrades, too, they said.
“We’re looking at this as a boost for the region’s tourism industry,” said Mary Ellen Ponder, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff. “But right now it’s basically us listening to their needs.”
The projects are expected to be packaged together in an effort to maximize public financing from potential sources including the city, county, and state of Missouri. It comes as area leaders exhale after months of negotiating over a failed bid to keep the Rams in St. Louis.
“There’s been so much noise for the last several years about the football team lease, and the dome, and then the new stadium,” said Convention Center President Kitty Ratcliffe. “It would not have been the right time — any time in the last several years — to get anybody’s attention. We’re now getting down to it.”
Ratcliffe said the convention center had commissioned a study, due in the next few weeks, on improvements aimed at keeping the facility attractive to convention planners. The connected Jones Dome, she said, will need upgrades to ensure it is “ideally suited” for conventions, now that football is gone.
But she said officials already knew some needed improvements: In order to better use the Dome, they’ll need to better link the convention center to the stadium, which could cost about $20 million. “No matter what we do, that is a critical piece,” she said. “We have bottlenecks.”
An old, privately owned garage is now stuck in the middle of the convention center. In its place, Ratcliffe said she’d like access corridors, kitchens, loading docks and a much larger ballroom. That would probably add more than $100 million more, she said.
“Some of that is not very sexy,” she said. “But … our competitors are building, while we’ve been doing nothing.”
Ratcliffe wouldn’t even guess at the cost of Jones Dome upgrades.
She said contractors launched the study in March and would finish in the next few weeks.
The Convention Center expanded in the early 1990s at a cost of about $120 million. The city is still paying down those bonds. In addition, the city, county and state together still owe $100 million for the Edward Jones Dome.
The Scottrade Center, formerly known as the Kiel Center, is now more than 20 years old. It opened in 1994 with the Blues as its signature tenant. The $170 million project received $62.4 million in tax-exempt financing. The site is owned by the city of St. Louis and leased to the Blues, who operate and manage the facility.
“We have a 21-year-old building that has had some investment over that time period, but we also know it’s at a point where it’s starting to fall behind with other cities who we compete with,” said Blues CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman.
Zimmerman added: “We don’t have a plan yet. What we’re doing is developing plans so the building is effective and competitive for the next 30 years.”
Though a complete renovation hasn’t been finalized, operators hope to install wireless Internet to improve cellphone reception, replace the seating, build better locker rooms and hospitality areas and update the broadcast control room, among other things.
Proponents say the Scottrade improvements are necessary for the facility to compete for national events such as NCAA basketball tournament games or Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships.
The Blues represent about 40 percent of the annual event days at the building.
Zimmerman wouldn’t discuss how much the total cost would be or how much would come from tax dollars. The Blues haven’t received significant ongoing tax support in the past. The city abated its 5 percent amusement tax for the Blues, but that money goes toward payment of bonds for the recent renovation of the attached Peabody Opera House.
Ponder said it was too early to know how much of the potential Scottrade renovation would come from public coffers. She said the city would work with the team, but she said it wouldn’t be the mayor’s top priority.
“Keeping NGA and fighting crime is our 100 percent focus,” Ponder said, referring to the sprawling effort to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency within the city’s borders and to reduce the crime rate.
It appears the city will have help from St. Louis County for Scottrade and the Convention Center. The county had bowed out of the recent Rams stadium financing package over a lack of a public vote.
“St. Louis County is in ongoing discussions with the City of St. Louis and the Convention and Visitors Commission regarding potential enhancements to the Convention Center and Scottrade Center, as well as other investments in our region’s tourism and hospitality industry,” said a statement from Cordell Whitlock, the spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
Tim O’Neil of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.