ST. LOUIS • Aldermen took a decisive step Friday in a quest to remain an “NFL city” by giving approval to fund construction of what would be the city’s second football stadium in less than two decades.
Months of debate and dealing at City Hall ended with a vote of 17-10 for final passage.
The debate moves from the dusty St. Louis aldermanic chambers to the posh hotel suites and executive offices of the NFL and its billionaire owners who will decide whether the St. Louis Rams can relocate to Los Angeles.
St. Louis aims to block that move. The team came to St. Louis in 1995 with a 20-year lease requiring the stadium be a “top-tier” facility — superior to three-quarters of NFL venues — in 2015 or the team could break the lease.
With the stadium far from top tier, state and local officials, led by St. Louis stadium task force chairmen David Peacock and Robert Blitz, have scrambled for most of the year to put together a financing package to build a soaring new outdoor facility on the city’s north riverfront. They released a statement calling Friday’s vote a “significant milestone.”
“We now have more work to do to prepare our St. Louis stadium proposal for delivery ahead of the NFL’s deadline of December 30,” the statement says. “We recognize that our proposal will require extensive review before it is considered for approval by the NFL. We are confident that it will be well received.”
The group spent months in court successfully invalidating a city ordinance requiring voter approval of money spent on new stadium construction, as well as cajoling support from the city’s elected officials.
“We all know this has been a long, drawn-out process,” said Alderman Tammika Hubbard, co-sponsor of the bill. “It hasn’t been an ideal situation. We have been under the thumb of other entities, but we all stood and took the charge.”
The city would finance $150 million of the overall $1.1 billion project. The rest of the funding would come from the state, the NFL and the team owner.
Friday’s meeting lasted more than two hours and was interrupted by protesters singing special Christmas carols such as, “We want a new Board of Aldermen for Christmas.”
The funding approval is far from the final step. The NFL team owners will make the ultimate decision, which is expected next month.
On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a stern warning that the financing package shouldn’t take for granted the league’s financial commitment to the project.
The NFL provides a maximum of $200 million to help teams build new stadiums, Goodell wrote. The premise of the bill approved on Friday that the league has committed $300 million to the Mississippi River stadium proposal “is fundamentally inconsistent with the NFL’s program of stadium financing.”
Alderman Jack Coatar, a co-sponsor of the bill, pushed forward anyway, saying the approval will “show the NFL management and Stan Kroenke that we’re not going to be pushed around.”
Kroenke hasn’t shown any interest in staying in St. Louis. For the new stadium to be built here, the team owner would have to agree to the financing package.
“We’re like at the strip club … and the stripper is throwing the money back at us,” Alderman Sharon Tyus said.
Aldermanic President Lewis Reed said, “Passage of this financing proposal keeps us in the running for a billion-dollar investment on our riverfront and the job opportunities that would come with it. If the NFL approves and Kroenke does not, it could at the least prevent relocation of the team and the tax revenue it creates”.
Alderman Antonio French, once a critic of the project, became a supporter after the bill was amended to include goals requiring minorities to be hired to build the stadium.
Still, French said he doubted the stadium would be built. But he said he hoped St. Louis’ action would show a “good-faith effort to hopefully sway a few votes to prevent Kroenke” from moving to Los Angeles.
NFL team owners are expected to decide that issue in January.
Approval from the board, made up of 29 Democrats, wasn’t easy. St. Louis County, which helped finance the Edward Jones Dome, bowed out of the process. Many St. Louis aldermen were skeptical, but crucial votes were delivered with help from construction unions and a generous minority inclusion component. Alderman Megan Green, generating much controversy, labeled the process “legalized bribery.”
The bill still must be signed by Mayor Francis Slay, who has been a vocal supporter of the project.
“There will be plenty of twists/turns in the stadium project,” Slay said on Twitter on Friday. “But, the City will not have been a reason not to build here.”
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who spearheaded the stadium task force, praised the board on Friday evening.
“I thank the Board for moving forward to meet the NFL’s December 30 deadline and help secure St. Louis’s position as a proud NFL city now and for years to come,” Nixon said in a statement.