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Aldermen send St. Louis convention center upgrades to Mayor Krewson

St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward, speaks during debate on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, over legislation to pay for convention center renovations.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward, speaks Dec. 14 during debate over legislation to pay for convention center renovations.

Updated at 5 p.m. Dec. 14 with final passage — The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has authorized borrowing $105 million to upgrade America's Center in downtown.

The result of Friday's vote was not a surprise, as aldermen had given initial approval to the bonds on Dec. 7 by a wide margin. The upgrades, including a larger ballroom and expanded loading dock space, are meant to help the city's convention business rebound.

"The convention center staff goes to great lengths to talk to customers of the America's Center, both past and hopefully future to ask them, what do you need? What do you want to see out of this building?" said Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward. "They've taken that seriously. These improvements are intended to address some of those concerns.

The vote to send the measure to Mayor Lyda Krewson was nearly identical to last week's. Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, flipped from a "yes" to a "no," arguing the city was investing too heavily in downtown at the expense of areas like his north side ward.

"We have to start making changes at the very beginning when we have the opportunity to, and I think this is an opportunity for us to redirect some of those funds and start looking at our city as a whole and start making better plans and better decisions," Bosley said.

St. Louis County must approve similar legislation for the upgrades to move forward.

Our original story from December 14:

St. Louis aldermen took a big step Friday toward renovating the downtown convention center.

The Board of Aldermen voted 26-2 to give initial approval to issuing $105 million worth of bonds for the America’s Center Convention Complex. That’s part of a $175- million plan to pay for more exhibit space, a larger ballroom and more loading docks.

Currently, St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri put in about $24 million annually to pay off bonds issued to pay for the dome that used to be the home of the St. Louis Rams and is attached to the convention center. Those bonds will be paid off in full after 2021. Alderman Jack Coatar’s bill would devote $6 million each year toward paying off the convention center upgrades for up to 40 years.

“The America’s Center is responsible for almost $260 million in direct spending in our regional economy on an annual basis,” Coatar, D-7th Ward, said. “And it supports 2,900 full-time equivalent jobs between restaurants, hotels and jobs directly at the America’s Center.”

The proposal has been in the works for several years, as convention center officials stressed the need for upgrades to compete with other cities for the lucrative business. They’ve cited the center’s inadequacies for already losing some conventions, such as FIRST Robotics.

“I will be upfront and say we do not have a commitment from the state for additional revenues,” Coatar said. “The hope is if we show leading as a region, that we can convince the state to also help with a future phase of expansion and improvement to the convention center.”

Unlike recent legislation to either improve or build sports facilities, Coatar’s bill to revamp the public convention center did not spark a lot of controversy on Friday. But one of the members of the Board who voted no, Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, questioned whether the city could use $6 million a year elsewhere.

“We seem to be tone deaf to people,” said Tyus, D-1st Ward. “This Democratic body seems to be a Republican body that continues to take our money and address it someplace else. And then they talk ‘look at what those communities look like.’”

Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, also voted against Coatar’s bill. He did not speak during debate over the legislation.

Coatar’s bill still needs another vote to go to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s desk. She has expressed support for the plan. The St. Louis County Council also needs to vote on a similar proposal for the plan to go forward.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.