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'The moment has arrived': Major League Soccer picks St. Louis for expansion franchise

'The moment has arrived': Major League Soccer picks St. Louis for expansion franchise


Carolyn Kindle Betz didn’t realize the presentation she and her family made in Orlando on July 31 would end the suspense. She didn’t know that the Major League Soccer Board of Governors would vote later that day to award her hometown a professional soccer franchise.

On Tuesday, she was finally able to share what she learned shortly after that vote. She and league Commissioner Don Garber revealed the news to a city that has been hungry to join the MLS for years: St. Louis will be the 28th team added to the growing men's soccer league.

Garber’s announcement, made at the Palladium event space near Lafayette Square, represents a remarkable turnaround for an effort that many St. Louisans thought had died in 2017 when voters rejected a special sales tax to support stadium financing.

“St. Louis, with its incredibly rich soccer history, not only deserves a team, but has earned one,” Garber told the crowd at the Palladium on Tuesday. “After two decades of discussions about St. Louis being a part of our league, today the moment has arrived. We’re here to make a landmark announcement for your city.”

Hundreds packed the Palladium, including fans, business executives and the region’s movers and shakers. They roared their approval, especially when Kindle Betz took the stage to share her take on the good news.

Kindle Betz, executive director of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation and granddaughter of Enterprise Rent-A-Car founder Jack Taylor, plans to enjoy Tuesday’s win.

But the ownership group — Jim Kavanaugh, chief executive of World Wide Technology, and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family — won’t be resting for much longer than that.

If St. Louis hopes to play its first MLS game in March 2022 in a dedicated stadium, that $200 million-plus stadium planned for Market Street near Union Station has to be built.

It’s a task Kindle Betz said will be finished on time “even if I have to go out with a hammer and nails myself,” she quipped during an interview Tuesday.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has already endorsed a stadium financing plan, which the Taylors have indicated would be “overwhelmingly” privately financed. There’s a break on real estate taxes and a few site-specific sales taxes that need final approval, but top city leaders have all signaled support and say details should be ready in a few weeks.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed shared the stage with Garber and Kindle Betz on Tuesday.

“This announcement here today is a huge win for the city that we all love,” Krewson told the crowd, before turning to Kindle Betz and the Taylor and Kavanaugh families. “Without you we would have never been able to do this.”

The addition of St. Louis is a win for the MLS, too: Garber said it’s “hard to imagine Major League Soccer without St. Louis.”

The city has a long and proud history in the sport, wide youth participation and, now, an opening left by the departure of the National Football League.

But Garber said the league added St. Louis to the top of expansion lists even in MLS’s early years, 20 to 25 years ago.

MLS was just waiting for a strong “ownership group and a stadium plan.” The Taylors and Kavanaugh delivered that.

Though disappointing for soccer fans and Kavanaugh, who was part of a prior ownership group effort, city voters’ rejection of a stadium financing plan in 2017 has been a blessing in disguise, allowing the Taylor family to jump in and resurrect the bid. The ownership is now 100% local, and city leaders say taxpayers are getting a much better deal.

“If not for that failed vote, it would not have attracted the interest of the Taylor group,” Garber said.

On outreach to corporate sponsors, local government and the public, “they have done everything right,” Garber said.

But there’s still a lot of work to do.

“First and foremost,” Kindle Betz said, the owners need to lock down corporate sponsorships. That’s a task made much easier by Tuesday’s announcement.

“Now we can walk in and say we have a team,” Kindle Betz said.

(Updated) Formal announcement set for Tuesday in St. Louis. Local ownership group spearheaded by Carolyn Kindle Betz of Enterprise Holdings Foundation and Jim Kavanaugh of World Wide Technology has been praised by MLS commissioner Don Garber for its 'amazing' effort in process to secure team.

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