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#MLS4theLou Hits its ​First Hiccup: Stadium Ownership

#MLS4theLou is moving quickly, less than 2 full months since the first announcement by the Taylor Family (of Enterprise ownership) and Jim Kavanaugh (a part-owner in the St. Louis Blues, STLFC, and CEO of World-Wide Technologies) announced the intention to revive the essentially dead effort to bring an expansion MLS franchise to ST. Louis. While traditionally these expansion processes can take potentially years to come to fruition, as I wrote about in a previous piece this ownership group seems keen on moving quickly towards securing their franchise.

With the MLS having their annual year-end meetings in December, it is traditionally required to have all necessary information, paperwork and plans secured and submitted by December 1st in or to be considered for expansion. A goal the MLS4theLou team seem to be aiming to hit, a lawyer for the ownership group, Bill Kuehling, confirmed this goal as the target date.

As previously outlined here, there are some priority markers the MLS want any potential bidder to hit in order to be awarded a franchise. The largest of which is building a soccer-specific stadium for the team to call home. This is clearly the largest hurdle owners need to face, and was exact roadblock the previous St. Louis bid faced.

This bid though, is different. The previous bid, which was defeated in a public referendum by 3300 votes resulting in a 53-47 fail, asked the St. Louis taxpayers for 60 million dollars for construction costs, as well as assorted tax breaks to make the stadium viable. This bid eliminates that ask for a cash infusion to the stadium fund, but asks for assorted tax breaks and benefits that would dramatically lessen the strain on the taxpayers, but also make the stadium viable for the ownership group.

Ocean Trash Breakdown Infographic-2

Last week, 2 of the 5 primary tasks were approved by the St. Louis City Council, the full tax break on the construction materials and the second being the city’s side of the 30-million-dollar tax credit, the second end of that vote is now sent to the Missouri Development Board, which is set to meet in December and is expected to pass the measure. The other 3 measures were to be set voted on by the Aldermen’s board, but an unexpected hitch has come in the voting decisions.

There is debate as to who the formal owner of the stadium would be, the team or the city. The MLS4theLou ownership group has indicated that despite they fund the building of the stadium, the stadium would be owned by the City. Which, without thinking too hard about it, sounds like a win for the city. Soccer team as a full-time tenant and operates the building then reaps the rewards of the other events the space hosts. Theoretically, it allows them to, in the long term, make back the tax breaks they provided. However, the city of St. Louis has been through this game recently. When the St. Louis Blues came to the city and said they needed to put in a new scoreboard because “they own the building” and the building needs renovations to stay competitive, the city of St. Louis was on the hook for 64 million. The downtown convention center (which is attached to the Edward Jones Dome, former Rams home) came to the city with a 164 million dollar ask. Additionally, the city would miss out on millions in property tax should the team own the stadium. The Board of Aldermen’s is afraid of being on the hook in the future. We’ve been burned a couple of times before,” said Alderman Christine Ingrassia, who represents the city’s 6th ward, including the Market Street stadium site.

The city fighting back against a, save now pay later situation makes a ton of sense for them. The potential long-term effects could be horrendous. So, a new resolution was brought to the table which could bridge the gap and mitigate risk for the city. Board President Lewis Reed introduced the resolution that requires the current primary tenant to pay all maintenance and upgrades, a potential middle ground.

Many see this as a hiccup to the eventual success. It appears the board is wanting this program to work, individuals like Alderman Ingrassia and Alderman Greene have their issues, but want to negotiate and do so in good faith. Despite this hiccup, the ownership group says they hope to be named an expansion city in the first quarter of 2019. Not “if everything goes right”, or a “we really hope”, they legitimately expect a formal announcement from the MLS in the next 5 months, which, if all things are looking at least “ok” on December 1st, is not a crazy expectation.

While there may not be a team playing in The Lou for some time, things are going to start happening fast if the owners are to be believed. A submitted bid by December 1stmeans the group has strong belief the city and state will be playing ball. The MLS governors meeting in December and an expected visit from the MLS Commissioner means St. Louis soccer fans have a lot to look forward to.

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