ST. LOUIS • Mayor Francis Slay said Wednesday that he would not call for a public vote on a new downtown football stadium, nor would he appeal a judge’s decision invalidating the city ordinance requiring such a vote.
Moreover, a National Football League team is so important to the region and its residents, the city does not have to break even on its investment in the new stadium, Slay said in his first interview after the judge’s ruling this week.
“Having an NFL team in a city is really, I think, a huge amenity,” he said. “It’s one of the things that make living in a big city fun.”
It is too late for an election at this point, Slay said late Wednesday. A vote couldn’t be scheduled for months, and the delay, he said, would kill the effort to keep the NFL in St. Louis.
Slay said he had yet to see an economic analysis of the new stadium’s construction and operations and didn’t know if taxes created by the project would equal the city’s annual spending for it.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that we can prove that money going into this — that we’re going to get out, in dollars and cents, what we’re putting into it,” he said. “But I do think it’s a good investment in the city and its future.”
The new stadium is worth it either way, he said. “People like NFL football. They want a team that they can support, whether they go to the games or not. It has a lot to do with big-city pride.”
And he promised that the city’s Board of Aldermen would get a vote on all parts of the new stadium’s funding — as soon as next month.
“We need leadership. And I believe very strongly that people want a football team,” he said. “I think it’s time to step up, take a position, and lead. And that’s what I’m doing.”
In April, the public board that runs the Edward Jones Dome, where the St. Louis Rams now play, sued the city, challenging a 2002 city ordinance that required a public vote before the city could spend tax dollars on a new stadium.
On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley ruled in favor of the dome authority and declared the ordinance invalid. He said that sections of the law were “too vague to be enforced” and that it had so many uncertainties that “their sum makes a task for us which at best could be only guesswork.”
Frawley’s decision cleared the way for Gov. Jay Nixon’s task force to keep pushing its $998 million open-air stadium — what many consider the region’s last chance to keep Rams owner Stan Kroenke from moving his team to Los Angeles. The city funding is a pillar of the task force plan.
Frawley’s ruling, however, also quickly drew the ire of residents hoping for a public vote or opposing the use of public funds for sports stadiums.
St. Louis University law professor John Ammann, who has sued the city, called it a “terrible day for democracy.”
Slay’s staff, too, deemed Frawley’s decision “very disappointing” — a point that confused some, because Slay has long said he supports the new stadium.
On Wednesday, over nearly 90 minutes with the Post-Dispatch, Slay explained his positions on the Rams, on riverfront redevelopment, on the city ordinance and on stadium funding.
City leaders read the tea leaves long ago, Slay said, and figured Kroenke wanted to move the Rams. During contract negotiations three years ago, the Rams barely participated, he said.
“We weren’t getting Kroenke’s attention,” he said. “To this day, we still don’t know what’s going on.”
Slay staffers began working with a couple of area business leaders to build a new stadium, and, potentially, keep the Rams.
Slay said he took a back seat willingly and let Nixon lead the charge. It was an easy decision, he said. The deal needed state money and a governor’s clout.
Slay said he had been happy with Nixon’s leadership.
Slay also said that he could not, at any point so far, have called for a city election on the issue. “We wanted a vote,” he said. But the city still doesn’t have a specific financial plan from Nixon’s task force.
He’s convinced it’s a great deal for the city. The project estimates at least $800 million would come from non-city sources, including $450 million from the team owner and NFL. “This is an $800 million investment in our city, that can create something people can enjoy,” he said.
If the team owner doesn’t invest, the stadium won’t be built, Slay said.
The north riverfront, said Slay, was not going to redevelop organically.
“It’s been the way it is for a long, long time,” he said of the empty lots and vacant warehouses. “To sit back and say we’ll just leave it alone? Things don’t happen on their own. Big projects, major development, takes initiative, it takes vision, and it takes the will to get it done. That is a very difficult-to-develop site.”
“There’s really nothing there,” he continued. “Other than power lines and infrastructure issues and ground contamination.”
On Wednesday, he called the stadium one of his top economic development priorities, behind only the effort to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and its 3,000 city jobs.
Slay understands that critics say stadiums never pay out what cities pay in. Still, he said, the intangibles have swayed him.
“These are things that are hard to put down on paper,” he said. “To me, they mean something, economically, to the city of St. Louis.”
Slay said he expected to get a final financing plan from Nixon’s task force any week now. Task force leader Dave Peacock, the former president of Anheuser-Busch, briefed the mayor this week. Slay said he wanted to send a financing plan to aldermen before they get back from their summer break in September.
His administration will also provide a fiscal note, if requested.
The board, he insisted, will have the opportunity to vote on the new stadium’s full financial package.
And public hearings, Slay said, will follow.