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Public funding for proposed MLS stadium inches back on track

An aldermanic committee will consider public funding for a professional soccer stadium a week after the measure appeared dead.
An aldermanic committee will consider public funding for a professional soccer stadium a week after the measure appeared dead.

Updated at 9:30 p.m. with additional comments from SC STL. —They say nothing is ever truly dead in politics, and the proposed public funding for a professional soccer stadium near Union Station is proving that adage.

Just last week, Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, announced that she would not ask the Board of Aldermen to consider her bill directing extra use tax revenue to the stadium. The use tax will go up automatically if voters approve a separate measure boosting the city's sales tax by a half percent.

But on Wednesday morning, the stadium funding bill showed up on the agenda of the Ways and Means committee.

In a statement on her Facebook page, Ingrassia said she decided to request the hearing after meeting with Dave Peacock, who is on the executive committee of SC STL, the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion Major League Soccer team to St. Louis. 

"I do not like doing business like this with so little time for us all to scrutinize such a complex project, but I've not been left with much choice, and I am also hesitant to pass up an opportunity for the Board of Aldermen to make their own decision on whether to pass along a sound proposal to our voters, asking them to indicate their preference at the ballot," Ingrassia wrote. She added that conversations with SC STL and her own research had led her to believe that waiting until August would jeopardize St. Louis' chances at securing an expansion team. The deadline for applications is Jan. 31.

Ingrassia later clarified that she only met with Peacock a second time to discuss an updated financial plan that included less of a commitment from the city than the $80 million originally proposed. She did not say how much less public money SC STL was now requesting.

The meeting on Thursday in no way guarantees public funding for the stadium. Ingrassia said she had doubts that the stadium is a good deal for the city financially and that she would not move the measure forward until those doubts were eased. Even if the measure gets out of committee, aldermen are working on a very tight timeline to place it on the April ballot, when voters, of course, could fail to pass it.  

Aldermen would also have to approve a separate financing plan, which is expected to be introduced on Friday. Details were not immediately available, though Ingrassia  indicated SC STL was looking to establish two special taxing districts. Finally, Gov. Eric Greitens is strongly opposed to providing any state financing for stadiums. SC STL was originally hoping to secure $40 million in state tax credits but withdrew the request after Greitens came out in opposition.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock said the group had worked with Gov. Greitens and his staff and "found a path forward  with the State of Missouri that will advance our goal of bringing Major League Soccer to a new multi-use stadium in Downtown St. Louis."  

"We will continue to work with Gov. Greitens on a state participation proposal that will promote economic development in St. Louis and throughout the region while remaining faithful to the Governor's stance against state funding for building stadiums.  Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that's a sentiment we wholeheartedly share," the statement said.

Earlier, Woodcock praised Ingrassia's decision to meet with SC STL to discuss the new financing plan and to move her bill forward.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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