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Aldermanic committee passes stadium financing bill

A member of the St. Louis stadium task force places signage in the room before the announcement that National Car Rental has agreed to pay $158 million over 20 years for naming rights for the proposed NFL stadium in St. Louis on October 7, 2015.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | October 2015
A member of the St. Louis stadium task force dispalys a rendering before the announcement that National Car Rental has agreed to pay $158 million over 20 years for naming rights for the proposed NFL stadium.

Updated with committee vote - The aldermanic Ways and Means Committee has sent the NFL stadium plan to the full board for consideration. The 7-2 approval means the aldermen could take an initial vote on the measure tomorrow.

The critical committee hearing came a few weeks before NFL owners will decide whether the St. Louis Rams can bolt to the Los Angeles area. While a nailed-down financing plan doesn’t ensure that the stadium gets built (as the NFL’s Eric Grubman hammered home to 101 ESPN’s Bernie Miklasz on Wednesday), it could make it harder for Rams owner Stan Kroenke to persuade 24 owners to approve an LA relocation.

The NFL gave St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego a Dec. 30 deadline to submit detailed stadium proposals, so getting the bill out of committee tomorrow seems vital to meeting that timetable. Even if the stadium financing package passes out of committee on Thursday and is initially approved by the full Board on Friday, aldermen will have to convene a “resumed session” to provide final passage for the measure.

As first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the revised plan no longer uses a recently signed naming rights deal as collateral to issue $75 million worth of bonds for the stadium. Instead, the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority would issue $80 million worth of bonds backed by the state’s credit rating. And that debt would be paid back with about two-thirds of the facility’s events-related taxes. In addition to a host of other alterations, the overall cost of the stadium rose by about $10 million to $1.01 billion.

Alderman Jack Coatar said on Wednesday that the revised funding plan might aid the city’s cause, especially since NFL owners weren’t enthusiastic about how the stadium’s naming rights would have been used in the prior plan. 

jack coatar
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Jack Coatar is one of the cosponsors of the stadium financing package.

“I think it’s frankly helpful to our case,” Coatar said. “The NFL was always skittish about giving up the naming rights, it’s my understanding. In this new proposal, they’ll keep the naming rights.”

Coatar said the percentage of money going toward stadium construction from projected game-day revenue (about 67 percent) and going to city coffers (roughly 33 percent) is unchanged since the last proposal.

“And frankly, there’s bit of an upside,” Coatar said. “If this project performs and tax revenues exceed the very conservative estimates that we have used to put the numbers together on this project, then actually governmental entities will be able to pay off their debt faster.”

Even with the encroaching deadline, the stadium financing bill faces the steep challenge of getting through a committee where the majority of members are skeptical about stadium funding. It’s entirely possible that Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed could have to cast a tie-breaking vote to move the bill to the floor.

Coatar and other aldermen expect the committee will amend the bill to bolster participation of minority and female workers on the project. Alderman Chris Carter, D-27th Ward, said last week that’s a critical piece of the puzzle for any funding proposal.

“I can only speak myself. But I definitely want to see as many black people and women get jobs more than anything else on this project – if it’s going to go through,” Carter said.

Hurdles after hurdles?

Another lingering issue is that St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green has expressed opposition to the stadium financing plan, citing a gap between how much revenue the stadium will bring in and how much the facility will cost the city. 

St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green came out against the stadium financing proposal, citing a budgetary gap between what the facility will cost and how much direct revenue it will bring in.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green came out against the stadium financing proposal, citing a budgetary gap between what the facility will cost and how much direct revenue it will bring in.

Since part of the financing package requires Green’s signature, stadium backers may ultimately need her support to prevent untimely delays and uncertainty. (The city's three-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment — consisting of Green, Reed and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay — will have to vote on the stadium proposal.)

“I would have to analyze what is brought before me in terms of any types of signature or anything,” said Green last month, responding to a question about whether she would still sign off a financing plan if she’s outvoted on the three-person panel known as the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. “And if I thought that this would jeopardize credit of the city and if I thought this was not in line with protecting taxpayers’ dollars or protecting the credit, then of course I would have to consider what to do in order to achieve the goal of protecting the city’s credit. That’s first and foremost my responsibility — to be fiscally responsible on behalf of this city.”

Reed, though, said he doubts that Green will be able to put the brakes on the plan if it passes the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

“After we go through and pass it, and it’s signed by me and signed by the mayor, the comptroller has an obligation to act on it,” Reed said on Friday. “If you want to take it to extreme measures, she can even be taken to court or whatever … So she will have to perform her job after the law is passed.”

Another longer-term issue? The Missouri General Assembly's opposition to allocating state funding to the project without a legislative or statewide vote. More than 20 senators and 120 state representatives have indicated they wouldn't support Gov. Jay Nixon issuing state bonds for the facility with either of those types of votes, which could severely complicate approval of state appropriations to pay off the debt.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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