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BenFred: St. Louis' MLS stadium will be a testament to ownership group's mission

BenFred: St. Louis' MLS stadium will be a testament to ownership group's mission

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We worry.

It’s natural.

St. Louis has a rocky recent history when it comes to sports stadiums.

It’s more than understandable to approach the topic with enough trepidation to fill the Dome. It’s right. Smart.

But there have been times since the Taylor family joined St. Louis’ Major League Soccer expansion effort when it has been necessary to remind some that this is the family that has left philanthropic fingerprints on Forest Park, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Gateway Arch grounds and seemingly every botanical garden and museum that exists.

The MLS4TheLou ownership group was not going to turn that track record on its head as it transitioned to soccer.

Reassuring words helped.

But what is it they say about pictures?

They’re worth a thousand words — and in this case, a whole lot of reassurance.

The updated MLS stadium renderings reported on Tuesday by the Post-Dispatch show much more than a majority privately financed soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis, the future home of the city’s MLS team.

These images represent a commitment from the MLS4TheLou ownership group and follow-through from the design team of HOK and Minneapolis-based Julie Snow. The plan has not changed. In fact, it’s expanded. The ownership group’s mission statement that this venture is a civic project designed to turn Downtown West into both a destination and a connecting piece to the city at large is as forward-facing as the stadium itself.

This will be a stadium you walk to and down into, feeling the excitement grow as the noise bounces between the canopy and the natural grass pitch. Two levels of thunderous sound. Suite seats for some. Sweet seats for all. Not a bad one in the house. They made sure of that.

This will be a lunch spot to visit during your work day, when the weather is nice and you want to kick a ball around the pop-up field with a coworker. The stadium will buzz before games, but the plan is for it to live every day, offering an inviting venue for shopping, eating and drinking, even if there’s no soccer to watch.

This will be a happy-hour hangout, an intimate concert venue, a showcase of St. Louis that keeps the attractions rolling, from the Arch to Busch, to Enterprise, to new-look Union Station and beyond.

This will be something to take pride in.

What worries are left?

Some worried about the calendar. MLS teams play 17 regular-season home games. What would the stadium be used for on the other days? Fair question. One side of the square stadium is a shape-shifting space that can be used for everything from private events to e-gaming competitions. The East plaza can host concerts and festivals. Food and drink establishments that serve fans inside the stadium can also flip to serve an outside crowd. This will be the first MLS stadium that puts everything — stadium, practice fields, training facility, team offices — in one downtown footprint. Players, coaches and fans will have their home base. High school and college soccer tournaments will have three fields to play on between the two practice fields — one natural grass, one artificial turf — and the stadium’s main pitch.

Some worried about more parking structures in a downtown full of empty garages and lots. Valid concern. The only parking garage added for the stadium is tucked beneath the practice fields, maximizing the benefits offered by the bowl-like setting of the land. Other than that limited parking space, game day parking will use what is already offered in the city. St. Louis has enough parking. It needs more reasons to come park. This plan realizes that.

Some — OK, everyone — worried about the lease. How’s this for one? There isn’t one.

The ownership group will own the stadium and the land. The ownership group is not your tenant. You are not its fretting landlord. The ownership group is your neighbor, and it’s going to be a good one.

Some worried about the finances. So, let’s make sure this is clear. Most of the financing plan remains unchanged from the proposal the Board of Aldermen approved in overwhelming fashion last November. The changes that have occurred should be celebrated.

The expanded footprint of the stadium project could mean the final construction total winds up on the plus side of the proposed $250 million. But assurances have been made that there will be no new requests for public dollars for any construction cost overruns. And now that the ownership group will own the land and the stadium, there will be no future requests for public money for stadium maintenance, renovation or demolition. That’s on the ownership group, too.

Some worried about property tax. It’s a potentially hot topic among critics. The ownership group will for 25 years pay what the property tax is on the land acquired for the project, as assessed at the time it was acquired. Pick at that if you like, but remember that most of this land was generating zero property tax while it was owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Still worried?

It’s hard to feel much more than excitement at this point.

Worry about 2022 taking too long to get here.


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