The dream of a publicly-funded soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis is dead.
Voters in the city decided against Proposition 2, a half-cent increase on the use tax on city businesses, by a final margin of 30,603 ‘no’ votes to 27,363 ‘yes’ votes, according to KSDK-TV.
Proposition 2 was key to the platform of SC St. Louis’ MLS bid, but it failed by a fairly wide margin, rendering any chance of a promotion for the USL side pretty much dead.
“For many years we have believed that St. Louis would be a tremendous market for a Major League Soccer team, but the lack of a positive stadium vote is clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a press release. “We deeply appreciate the efforts of Paul Edgerley, Jim Kavanaugh and their partners to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis. They were focused on creating a plan that benefited the community at no cost to St. Louis City residents while bringing the fastest growing professional League in North America to the region.”
The SC St. Louis supporter’s side St. Louligans also released a statement regarding the vote on Facebook.
St. Louis was one of 12 bids formally submitted to MLS back in January, with the hopes of taking an expansion spot in either 2017 or 2018.
The 20,000-seat stadium would have cost somewhere around $155 million to build and the ownership group behind SC St. Louis was asking for around $60 million in public funding to help make their bid easier. The ownership groups would also be responsible for construction maintenance fees, any potential overrun and for making up potential city shortfalls.
The bid’s stadium plan ultimately hinged on a voter initiative because the grounds the stadium would have been built on are owned by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Committee and likely would have involved the city leasing or selling the property to the SC St. Louis ownership group, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
St. Louis as a city has shown animosity in recent years against public funding initiatives. The Edward Jones Dome stands without a sports franchise after Stan Kroenke moved the Rams to Los Angeles last season, leaving the city to foot the bill over $100 million in bonds used to create the facility in 1995.
The debt isn’t expected to be paid off until 2021.
Part of Kroenke’s justification for leaving was that the city was unwilling to work with him on building a new $998 million stadium downtown. An analysis by the St. Louis Business Journal showed the proposal included more than $350 million in public money, while Kroenke’s Inglewood complex in California, at a price tag of $1.2 billion, was funded with virtually zero public dollars.
That experience with the Rams was perhaps what caused pause for a lot of voters, who are still paying off the stadium that now sits abandoned.
It’s reasonable to ask “well, what about the dome?” That presents a few different problems. The city currently owns the facility and as previously mentioned, still have to pay it off. The city is currently using the dome to host conventions and as a concert venue and would have to pay for any renovations to the building so it’s unlikely they would be willing to tear off the roof and make the facility more soccer friendly.
MLS is also particularly picky about its teams having private ownership of its stadiums, specifically favoring bids that make soccer-friendly stadiums and eschewing shared-use spaces, most notably seen with the choice to choose Orlando City SC and Los Angeles FC’s bids as expansion sides in the last expansion cycle.
This vote marks the likely death of St. Louis’ MLS bid, one of four based in the Midwest region. Cincinnati, Detroit and Indianapolis are still under consideration for a bid at this time, along with eight other cities across the country.
St. Louis was one of the original 26 cities under consideration for franchises back in MLS’ infancy, but was ultimately passed over.
MLS is set to make its decision on two franchisees later this year and two more sometime in 2018.