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Gov.-elect Greitens calls public money for St. Louis soccer stadium 'welfare for millionaires'

Gov.-elect Greitens calls public money for St. Louis soccer stadium 'welfare for millionaires'


ST. LOUIS • Missouri Gov.-elect Eric Greitens said he opposes public funding for a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis, according to a statement released by his transition team Monday.

“This project is nothing more than welfare for millionaires,” Greitens said. “Right now, because of reckless spending by career politicians, we can’t even afford the core functions of government, let alone spend millions on soccer stadiums.

“This back-room wheeling and dealing is exactly what frustrates Missourians.”

Greitens’ statement came one day before the state Development Finance Board vote was scheduled to vote on a request from the city of St. Louis for $40 million in tax credits to go toward the $200 million downtown stadium plan. Last week, legislation was introduced before the city’s Board of Aldermen that could ask city voters to approve up to $80 million for the stadium.

Representatives for SC STL, the private ownership group working with MLS to acquire a team here, did not comment on Greitens’ statement. SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock said only that the tax credit issue remains on Tuesday’s board agenda.

Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, responded by saying the public funding question is being put to voters to decide.

“The Mayor promised a vote on whether to financially support a new multi-use stadium,” Crane said in an email. “That’s what’s been proposed. There are plenty of other uses for the increased revenue should voters choose not to support an MLS team.”

Slay is proposing two tax measures: a sales tax to help expand MetroLink and address crime and poverty, and a second proposal that would steer tax money to help build a soccer stadium downtown.

If both measures are placed on the ballot and voters approve, the stadium would be roughly 60 percent publicly financed. The city would own the stadium and would enter a 30-year lease with the MLS team.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon responded to Greitens in a tweet Monday afternoon: “I don’t consider a transparent process that involves 3 public votes, including 1 by St. Louis voters, to be ‘backroom wheeling and dealing.’”

The state Development Finance Board is under the Department of Economic Development, which is led by a gubernatorial appointee. Economic Development spokeswoman Amy Susan would not answer questions and directed reporters to call Development Finance Board executive director Bob Miserez.

Miserez did not return calls Monday.

It remains unclear whether the Greitens administration could seek to change or nullify a board decision after he takes office if St. Louis is awarded the tax credits. Board members are appointed by the governor.

Alderman Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward, the sponsor of the ballot proposition, also did not respond to a request for comment.

SC STL has said it would pay at least $150 million to the league to acquire a team and would pay for any construction cost overruns and ongoing stadium maintenance over the course of the 30-year lease.

If the tax credits are approved by the state Development Finance Board, it wouldn’t be the first time the board approved millions for a sports team just ahead of a change in the governor’s office.

In late 2008 the board approved a $25 million request for the Kansas City Chiefs professional football team for improvements to Arrowhead Stadium and the construction of a practice facility at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. The tax credits were approved in the waning months of Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s term ahead of Democrat Jay Nixon taking office.

Providing $40 million in tax credits to St. Louis’ MLS stadium would create $64.2 million in general state revenue over 33 years, according to an analysis by the state Economic Research and Information Center. That would put the state’s net revenue at $24.5 million in present value over that period, according to the analysis.

The state analysis estimates between 400 and 500 permanent jobs would be created by the stadium. Seventy-five of those would be full-time operations staff for the team, estimated at close to $6 million in payroll annually.

The ownership group estimates it will operate at a loss for at least the first decade of the team’s existence, according to documents provided to the Development Finance Board. Annual losses for the ownership group are projected to peak at $32.6 million in 2025 before trending downward.

Ticket sale income is estimated at $10.2 million for 2020 and 2021, according to SC STL. That number is projected to increase to more than $16 million by 2028.

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