County Council eyes stadium funding bill

By Alyson E. Raletz

Legislation authorizing St. Louis County’s participation in funding for the construction of a new ball park for the St. Louis Cardinals to replace Busch Stadium recently was introduced by the County Council.

The legislation, sponsored by six councilmen, would loan $48 million in taxable revenue bonds that would be paid from the county’s Convention and Tourism Tax.

At the request of County Executive Charlie Dooley, $3 million also would be appropriated to the Regional Convention and Visitors Commission for “support of tourism activities.”

The project’s tourism value justifies the county’s participation in the construction of a new ball park, according to the legislation, which states, “The county regularly cooperates with the city in public purpose activities involving recreational activities, sports activities, convention, tourism, economic development activities and efforts including but not limited to … the Sports Authority …

“The project serves an essential governmental and public purpose as a recreational facility, a sports activity facility, a facility that enhances convention and tourism activity, as an economic development that increases and assures employment opportunities and as a redevelopment project …”

Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, told the Call there were several reasons he chose to support the bill.

“The reason why I put my name on the bill is because this is a loan to the stadium,” he said. “This isn’t money that we’re just giving them and money that won’t ever return to the county. I think in the times we’re in right now, the much-needed jobs that this will create will create a ripple effect for the county as a whole, which will be a good thing. The fact that we are going to get a good return on our investment from that money is also a good thing.”

Tom Sullivan, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, opposed the legislation during the Nov. 18 meeting’s period for public comment.

“If the council goes for the ball park deal, there will be no more so-called surplus hotel tax revenue to be given to Faust Park, Laumeier Park and the Transportation Museum,” he told councilmen. “There also will be no more surplus revenue to bail out the Convention and Visitors Commission from time to time.”

If the Edward Jones Dome was producing tax revenue at the rate predicted, he said, the need to bail out the commission would be eliminated — an investment that should be “rolling in money” according to 13-year-old tax revenue projections. But it is not making anywhere near the $6 million the county puts into the Edward Jones Dome every year, he said.

“Now the 17 millionaire owners of the Cardinals want to lead you down that primrose path again, telling you how much revenue St. Louis County is going to get for subsidizing their new ‘Dot.Com field,'” he said.

The council is not required to give hotel tax revenue to the Cardinals, Sullivan said, citing Section 67.657 of Missouri Revised Statutes. He noted that it is council policy that sets aside this revenue for tourism-related uses claiming that the state law allows hotel tax revenue to be used as general revenue and could be a source to relieve general revenue problems.

Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, said the new legislation accompanies a lot of information the public will be digesting in the next few weeks. He said all parties involved worked hard to determine the county’s role in the project and he believed it was in the county’s best interests to help financially support the construction of a new ball park.

“This is a loan,” Odenwald said. “There was a question during the summer as to whether the county would be changing its position from a loan to a grant … but we decided to go with a loan, an interest-bearing loan, a loan that will require repayment at the end of the term, and a loan that will be supported by funds from the hotel/motel tax dollars.”

County taxpayers would not be hurt by the county’s participation in the ball park, he said.

“And with all due respect, Mr. Sullivan, I think we have been counseled for years out here that we could use those monies only for tourism and tourist-related purposes,” he said. “And this council has been consistent in utilizing funds for that purpose and that purpose only.”

Odenwald told Sullivan and councilmen that some people or organizations may disagree as to whether a new stadium would promote tourism, but “I certainly think it does,” he said.

In a statement released before the council meeting, Fred Lindecke of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, announced that the organization is circulating a petition in the county to give citizens the right to vote on any taxpayer subsidy for a new Cardinals ball park.

“St. Louis County is cutting its budget due to lack of revenue and it is losing revenue to municipal incorporation,” Lindecke stated in the press release. “Yet the County Council wants to issue $45 million in bonds to subsidize a new ball park for the Cardinals. This would cost county taxpayers $110 million to pay off this debt.”

The coalition’s message asks council members to defeat the Cardinal ball park legislation or to permit a countywide vote so constituents can make the decision whether to use public money for “legitimate public services.”

County councilmen were scheduled to discuss the ballpark legislation during a committee of the whole meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24 — after the Call went to press — in the council chambers, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.