ST. LOUIS • The office of Mayor Francis Slay has committed to giving about two-thirds of the city taxes generated by a new riverfront football stadium to the team that plays there, according to legislation sent to aldermen on Wednesday.
Mayoral aides and Gov. Jay Nixon’s task force spent hours on Tuesday rewriting key financial provisions of the bill before sending it to the Board of Aldermen, with hopes that the deal is generous enough to keep a National Football League team in St. Louis.
Rather than a yearly $6 million bond payment, the new bill would reduce payments in early years to $4.5 million, and increase them later to almost $9 million, to better match an expected rise in tax dollars, Slay staffers said.
Perhaps most importantly, the two sides agreed that the city would keep about 36 percent of its game-day tax revenue — in earnings taxes and a portion of sales taxes.
Year-by-year, city revenue will not cover expenses, mayoral staffers acknowledged. But construction of the $1 billion stadium will generate millions in worker payroll taxes and city permit fees, which will fill shortages from other years, they said.
Slay’s chief of staff, Mary Ellen Ponder, called the package fair for city taxpayers and for an NFL team.
“We have worked very hard with the task force to develop a plan that is fair and reasonable,” she said. “We are proud to support (the bill) and look forward to working with the Board of Aldermen to earn its approval in the weeks ahead.”
The bill and accompanying financing package will be introduced at the board’s meeting Friday.
Ponder and Dave Peacock, co-chairman of the stadium task force, have been working for weeks to find enough money to cover the city’s share of the construction cost — about $145 million — without hurting the city’s budget or credit rating.
This proposal asks the NFL team to pay $250 million, the NFL to give the team a $200 million loan, and fans to buy $160 million in seat licenses. It puts the remainder on the state of Missouri, either through bonds or tax credits.
It’s unclear if the NFL will support the plan. League Executive Vice President Eric Grubman was worried last week about the use of tax dollars and naming rights, which would finance a portion of the city’s share of the construction costs.
Grubman said the NFL considers that money private dollars, not public. He declined to comment Wednesday.
Peacock said the aldermen, for now, are key. “The ordinance passing is absolutely critical,” he said.
Jack Coatar, an alderman representing downtown and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he expects to get support.
“I’m most concerned about the politics, getting the bill passed in a timely manner, to show the NFL that the city is committed to this project,” he said.
“I think it’s a project many of my colleagues are inclined to support,” he continued. “But they’re going to need this stuff explained to them.”
Alderman Antonio French, who represents north city neighborhoods, has been a vocal critic of the stadium plan so far. He is keenly interested in the details. “Somebody has to put this thing in a spreadsheet and see what we’re paying out,” he said.
“If the economics work out,” he concluded, “there is a circumstance in which I would support it.”
Nahuel Fefer, a special assistant to Slay, has been tracking numbers on the project. The city is now paying $6 million a year toward Jones Dome debt and upkeep, and it gets about $4 million in tax revenue from the Rams.
The new calculation — using “very conservative assumptions,” Fefer said — would at first cost the city about the same $6 million a year, but reduce its share of tax revenue to about $2 million a year, because of the rebates.
The mayor’s office thinks the economics add up for three reasons:
First, staffers estimate stadium construction would produce $13 million in added city revenue over the three years of building.
Second, the city would keep more tax revenue every year. The city’s share of sales tax at first would be 50 percent, but would grow to 100 percent by the end of the 30-year lease. And because financial estimates are conservative, Fefer said, tax revenue could grow more than anticipated.
Finally, Slay’s staff pointed to an old immeasurable:
“How,” Ponder asked, “do you put a quantifiable number on civic pride?”