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ST. LOUIS — Plans for the Major League Soccer stadium here have gotten bigger, now stretching three blocks north of Market Street.

The $250-million-plus plan envisions a 22,500-seat stadium north of Market in place of highway ramps, parking lots and private businesses along Olive Street, according to renderings obtained by the Post-Dispatch. Practice fields and other team facilities would be wedged south of Market between 21st and 22nd streets, replacing empty land and highway on- and off-ramps.

And rather than leasing it from the city, the MLS ownership group plans to retain private ownership of the stadium, taking responsibility for its upkeep and maintenance and paying some property taxes, according to people close to the ownership group who spoke on condition of anonymity.

St. Louis' new MLS ownership group, led by the Taylor family of Clayton-based rental car giant Enterprise Holdings, has been quietly reaching deals with private landowners on the north end of the footprint. All but one property owner is under contract. The ownership group wants to break ground by spring in order to open the stadium in time for the first game in March 2022.

MLS officially awarded the group the 28th team of the growing men’s soccer league in August.

According to people familiar with the project, construction is waiting on a final agreement between the Missouri Department of Transportation and the city. MoDOT owns the highway ramps that will be removed to make room for the massive project; the city plans to acquire the land and sell it to the ownership group.

But the city and state have to hammer out a new cost-sharing agreement for roadwork at nearby Jefferson Avenue, a project that will have to be coordinated with stadium construction. That roadwork is part of city and state efforts to improve access to the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's western headquarters, which will break ground next month.

“There is some work being done to amend that agreement itself," MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told the Post-Dispatch. "We’re working through that process, all in conjunction with a potential sale.”

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission called a special meeting Monday and approved in closed session an initial measure authorizing the department to execute a sales agreement with a city agency for 22 acres of what will become excess right-of-way in the area. The sale is expected to close Dec. 1, according to meeting materials from MoDOT. A city agency has held an option on the land since 2016.

“We understand there to be some time considerations, and we’re trying to do our best to move the needle," McKenna said of the special meeting.

A price wasn't available because the sale hasn't closed, though sources said the purchase price isn't an issue.

The ownership group intends to bear any increased costs for the roadwork due to the addition of the stadium project, according to one of the sources.

MoDOT hopes to have bids for the Jefferson Avenue project by March, according to the meeting materials.

In a statement, a spokesman for the ownership group thanked the city, MoDOT and the state for their work on the project.

"It takes a collective effort to tackle a project of this scale and we want to be respectful of the process we’re currently working through with them," the group's statement said. "We look forward to sharing more information as soon as we’re able to.”

A city spokesman declined to comment. 

Financing plans 

Though the Taylor-led group would own the stadium, it still plans to ask for 25 years of property tax abatement on the value of the stadium development. The MoDOT land is tax-exempt now, but the ownership group plans to pay property taxes on the value of the undeveloped land based on what MoDOT agrees to sell it for.

It would also continue paying existing property taxes based on the current value of several private properties it intends to acquire along Olive Street. 

Other than private stadium ownership, much of the financing plan remains the same: owners hope to impose three 1% sales taxes using special taxing districts, though aldermen have not yet approved one via an expanded St. Louis Port Authority footprint.

They are also expecting $30 million in state tax credits from the Missouri Development Finance Board for site preparation, and they plan to obtain a sales tax exemption on construction materials. 

The ownership group, however, is now asking for a complete abatement of the city’s 5% amusement tax, since the stadium will be privately owned. Before, half was to be waived, with the unabated half going into a stadium upkeep and maintenance fund, intended to assuage concerns that city stadium ownership meant an unfunded future liability.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen would have to sign off on the measures. 

Beyond soccer games

The latest stadium plans, designed by HOK of St. Louis and Julie Snow, of Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects, show a slightly different layout than what the ownership group released in April. For one, the open-air stadium awning won’t be divided into two, right-angled pieces.

In an attempt to keep the area active beyond the 17 regular season MLS home games, the owners plan to build the stadium so restaurants and commercial spaces can serve game-day patrons and weekday pedestrians, even when games aren't going on. 

A public plaza with a small soccer field on the eastern end of the stadium offers a more intentional end to the Gateway Mall. The mall now trails off at 21st Street before falling into the highway-ramp hole beneath Market.

The southern end of the stadium along Market Street will be built as flexible space for events, and the stadium itself will be capable of hosting concerts and other large gatherings. Owners plan to make the stadium Wi-Fi capable, and, in the southern end, hope to host events such as Esports tournaments — competitive video gaming that is quickly growing in popularity. 

The ownership group doesn't intend to add a sea of parking to Downtown West. Plans call for a modest 700 to 900 parking spots underneath the practice fields to serve team staff and others. Plans show parking south of Clark Avenue, though that is mostly a placeholder and that land could be developed in the future, sources said.

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