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Jim Kavanaugh: No ‘Major Impediments’ To Major League Soccer Plan

The proposed stadium would seat up to 22,500 for soccer. It could also be a site for concerts and other events.

St. Louis is edging toward a win for local soccer fans who have long hoped the city would score a Major League Soccer team.

For Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, this is the second attempt he’s been part of to bring MLS to the region. Kavanaugh is part of the ownership group along with Carolyn Kindle Betz, president of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, and other members of the Taylor family.

Bringing in a team with mostly private money has been a lot of work, he said, but this time he's optimistic.

“I don’t see any major impediments that will blow this up. We still have details to work through that we need to make sure that we do the right amount of due diligence going through this, and we need to do it quickly,” he said.

Kavanaugh added that the group will present a formal plan to the MLS expansion committee within the next four to six weeks, including key details that finalize the land deal and corporate sponsorships for the stadium as well as the team’s jerseys. While he said he could not release the name of potential sponsors, he added that the group held a lunch with just under 30 CEOs when MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited St. Louis last month.

The local ownership group is still in talks with the city to lock up the land downtown for the 22,500-seat stadium. Renderings were released Saturday, showcasing an open-air stadium mixed with retail, restaurants and gathering spaces.

At one point, a key part of the plan included an expansion of the city’s Port Authority District, which would have allowed for a 1% sales tax on particular development projects. But earlier this month, the Board of Aldermen did not consider the measure.

“On one hand, it almost seemed like that potentially could really derail everything that we’re doing, and that’s not the case,” he said. “You know, I think that would have been a nice thing if they were able to do that, and I think there’s a chance maybe they still figure that out.” 

Kavanaugh played soccer at St. Louis University and was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. He is also the CEO of St. Louis FC, which plays in the United Soccer League.
Credit Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio
Kavanaugh played soccer at St. Louis University and was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. He is also the CEO of St. Louis FC, which plays in the United Soccer League.

There are alternative means of funding on the table, but Kavanaugh did not elaborate on the specifics.

Another expense to sort through is how an additional $50 million — for a total $200 million expansion fee — will affect the financing for the project. The higher cost came as a surprise to Kavanaugh, and he said the group will continue to have discussions with MLS about the fee. That said, he’s not confident there’s much wiggle room to bring it down.

“They’ve come out with this $200 million mark. You know, we haven’t spent a lot of time with them on this, but I’m sure they’ve done their homework on it and they understand why they’ve come up with that,” he said. “And it’s just something we’re going to have to deal with.”

On the other hand, Kavanaugh added that the higher fee signifies the maturity of the league. “They’ve learned a lot over the last 20 years of what not to do, and we’re the beneficiaries of that,” he said. “But we’re also the one that’s the beneficiary of a $200 million fee, so you take the good and the bad.”

Kavanaugh said a major goal of bringing a team to St. Louis is to revitalize the downtown district and make it appealing not only for people to come in for games and events but also to live in the area.

MLS is expected to announce the official expansion cities by July 31, the date of the All Star Game. Until then, Kavanaugh said he’s got a lot of work to do but called the July date a feasible deadline.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

Follow Wayne on Twitter: @WayneRadio

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Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.