CLAYTON • St. Louis County formally announced its intention Thursday to bring a $14 million state-of-the-art soccer complex to Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park — a development officials predict will draw enough visitors to generate nearly $8 million in annual sales tax revenue.
County Executive Steve Stenger made the announcement at a 10 a.m. news conference attended by more than 40 officials and coaches of area amateur soccer clubs and leagues.
The plan to move forward with the construction of 13 artificial surface fields on the western edge of the park represents a political and personal triumph for O’Mara, a college standout who played professionally with the St. Louis Steamers.
O’Mara four years ago introduced the idea of building a soccer campus to draw soccer players and fans from a multistate region to the county’s oldest recreational facility — 2,145 acres in Maryland Heights.
“He was the prime mover of this project,” soccer announcer and fellow Hall of Famer Bill McDermott acknowledged at the news conference.
O’Mara’s dream for Creve Coeur Park however stalled through a combination of budget considerations and political infighting that grew out of a competing proposal from a private developer.
The impasse began to crack last year when the county approached the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission with a plan to finance the venture.
Executive Director Kitty Ratcliffe said Thursday the CVC board signed off on the funding at a special meeting in late December.
The terms call for the county to issue bonds to cover the cost of construction through its Convention and Recreation Trust Fund. The county will then use revenue from a 3.5 percent tax imposed on guests at county hotels to cover the cost of the bonds.
That tax produces about $11 million a year, said CVC Chief Financial Officer Neil Palacios. More than half — $6 million a year — goes to pay down Edward Jones Dome construction debt and facility upkeep. About $3.5 million funds a portion of the Cardinals’ new Busch Stadium construction debt.
That leaves, on good years, about $1.5 million extra. And that’s the money, Palacios said, that will go toward paying down the $14 million up-front construction cost.
The CVC has known about the proposed soccer park development for months.
In November, attorney and commission chairman Andy Leonard told his board that the agency had received a proposal from Stenger to “upgrade the soccer facility” in Creve Coeur Park using the county’s hotel-motel tax revenues, according to minutes from that meeting.
The board discussed the proposal, and noted that the project is close to the airport, is a good investment for hotels, and “supports the County.”
Ratcliffe said the county request would cost the CVC $1.4 million a year for 20 years.
Both Ratcliffe and Leonard warned the board, separately, that, in some years, the CVC’s share of the county hotel-motel tax might not cover the commitment.
Still, the board voted to “support the county’s proposal” and authorize Leonard and Ratcliffe to negotiate terms.
Leonard said then that the board might need to meet before its regular January date for another vote on the plan.
Last week, the Post-Dispatch requested minutes of the past year’s commission meetings. On Thursday, the CVC provided access to those minutes.
The December meeting was not included. When asked, Ratcliffe said she would send them later.
County Spokesman Cordell Whitlock said the county could not move forward with the funding proposal without approval from the CVC, the body governing the receipt of tourist revenue.
The county expects to immediately issue a Request for Proposals seeking construction bids for a $14 million project.
As a result of the CVC’s involvement, Stenger said county taxpayers will not shoulder any of the cost.
The private developer who hoped to partner a regional soccer complex in Chesterfield with the Creve Coeur Park project disputes the county’s financial estimate.
Thorman cites the $36 million price tag on the 2009 construction of 12 fields in Overland Park, Kan., as evidence the county has grossly underestimated the $14 million it has attached to the cost of installing 13 fields in “a flood plain” six year later.
The Kansas City developer and businessman — who last year pulled out of Chesterfield to build his project in Belleville — foresees county taxpayers getting stuck with the bill for what he maintains is destined to be a cost overrun.
With play on the new Creve Coeur fields expected to begin in Fall 2017, the county could soon learn if Thorman’s prophecy is fulfilled.
The complex is projected to host a minimum of 21 tournaments a year.
A county study predicts the 133,000 players, coaches, families and fans attending the matches will book 39,000 hotel rooms annually.
The county is estimating the annual tax receipts could reach $7.7 million.
“This is no longer just a cause,” McDermott said Thursday, alluding to the longtime O’Mara quest to add to the existing club soccer fields at Creve Coeur Park. “It’s a business.”