Major League Soccer investors trying to bring a team to St. Louis probably won’t get $40 million in tax credits or any state money, based on Gov.-elect Eric Greitens’ comments Monday.
“To be very clear, I have completely ruled out state funding for stadiums,” Greitens said Monday said taking questions from journalists in Dellwood.
Hours later, the St. Louis alderman sponsoring the ballot proposal for up to $80 million in city funding for a St. Louis MLS team called the proposal’s future doubtful.
“I was hoping to get to the point where this proposal made sense for St. Louis, but I’m feeling that less and less,” 6th Ward Alderman Christine Ingrassia said by phone.
And the mayor’s office said Monday that getting a stadium built would be difficult without the state.
“We’ve remained committed to working with SC STL to develop a financing plan that makes sense for the city of St. Louis and includes a vote of the people,” Mayor’s Chief of Staff Mary Ellen Ponder said in an email. “Having said that, the state of Missouri and Gov.-elect Greitens are critical. It will be tough to get this done without the state’s support.”
Greitens reiterated his description of state aid for stadiums as ”welfare for millionaires” but said he “looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the MLS project to see if there’s a way for them to bring private-sector funding to bring a soccer team to the state of Missouri.”
“We are not going to use money from the people of the state of Missouri for what I believe is corporate welfare,” Greitens said. “We’ve got far too many core priorities of government that have to be invested in.”
The state Development Finance Board, made up mostly of appointees by outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was set to approve the tax credits Dec. 20 when Greitens, a Republican, announced his opposition one day before the meeting. Investors asked that the proposal be pulled from the agenda so they could meet with Greitens and win his support, but that appears as unlikely as ever.
Jim Kavanaugh, St. Louis MLS investor group SC STL vice chairman, said Monday that Greitens’ comments were “disappointing considering he doesn’t understand our business proposal and potential ROI [return on investment] for the state.” Kavanaugh did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.
The tax credits would have helped pay for development of the proposed stadium site west of Union Station on 24 acres of mostly state-owned land. In September, the state Department of Transportation entered a two-year contract with St. Louis giving the city the exclusive option to buy the site during that period.
The current proposal also calls for $80 million in city funding for the $200 million stadium project. The city’s contribution is contingent on the Board of Aldermen’s sending such a proposal to city voters in the April 4 municipal elections.
The board has a Jan. 24 deadline to approve the ordinance for the April ballot. The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee.
Ingrassia said SC STL owners had not approached her to discuss the stadium deal, which she said was “disrespectful and disappointing.” She said she sponsored the bill because it would be constructed in her ward, but wasn’t completely sold on the proposal herself.
“I would be hopeful that the only way it would pass out of the Board of Aldermen is if there’s enough people who think it’s a good enough deal to ask the city voters to say yes to,” Ingrassia said. “I would not want to send something to city voters if we thought it didn’t make sense for them.”
The city would own the 22,000-seat stadium and lease it to the team for 30 years under the proposal. SC STL has pledged to pay for maintenance and any cost overruns during construction.
SC STL’s biggest contributions would be $80 million toward the stadium, about 40 percent of the project’s cost, and a $150 million fee to secure an expansion team. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the league’s 25th and 26th teams would be named this year; ownership applications are due this month.
St. Louis was widely considered a lock for one of the two spots to begin playing in 2020. But uncertainty over public financing could knock the city down the list of 10 total cities’ ownership groups preparing bids.
“Without state and city investment [that comes with a return] I don’t see it happening,” Kavanaugh said by text message.
The other expansion candidates are Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina; Tampa and St. Petersburg in Florida; San Antonio, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Detroit; Sacramento, Calif.; and Nashville, Tenn.