Stadium Finance

St. Louis Voters Kill MLS Stadium Scam


Stadium Finance
AFP/Getty Images
Apr 05, 2017 at 12:16 PM ET

In a rare moment of triumph for the forces of reason over greed, the people of St. Louis voted against handing over $60 million in taxpayer money to a gang of wealthy hedge fund bankers and Bain Capital-adjacent vultures who wanted to build a downtown soccer stadium.

Tuesday’s vote ended up being a close one, with 47 percent voting in favor of Proposition 2 and 53 percent opposed. Proposition 1, however, did pass, netting 60 percent of the vote. (In order for SC STL to get their hands on all that sweet, sweet public money, both measures needed to garner a majority of the yes votes.)

Now, city sales taxes will jump 0.5 percent and generate an estimated $20 million per year. $12 million of which will be directed to the expansion of a light rail system and the remainder towards public safety, housing, urban renewal, and other sorely-needed public services for a city in which close to 30 percent of all residents are considered “impoverished,” according to Federal guidelines.

Major League Soccer released a statement following the vote, thanking SC STL’s owners for their million dollar advertising campaign and get-out-the-vote push, while smugly describing St. Louis’s refusal to be ripped off as a “loss for the community.”

What’s more, as Commissioner Don Garber unsubtly hinted when he attended a pro-Proposition 2 rally last week to stump for the measure, it’s pretty clear that St. Louis will not be named one of two new MLS expansion teams.

“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,” the statement said.

SC STL really pulled out all the stops in the final days leading up to the vote. The #MLS2STL hashtag was flooded yesterday; the police and other public unions publicly supported the measures; and Outgoing Mayor Francis Slay penned an impassioned editorial for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calling Proposition 1 “a moral and economic imperative,” then reiterating SC STL’s talking points to encourage a yes vote on Proposition 2 as well.

Longtime St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster Joe Buck, who does not live within the St. Louis city limits and would not have contributed a dime in taxes to the stadium, took to Twitter to lump welfare for millionaires in with actual infrastructure projects.

He was joined by ex-MLS star Taylor Twellman, who was a frequent pro-stadium rally attendee, in stumping for the proposal.

While we’re here, the editorial Twellman links to is a pile of hot, festering garbage, one that resorts to a lot of ALL-CAPS, BOLD-FONTED, ITALICIZED SHOUTING peppered with multiple exclamation points, which is definitely an indication of a well-reasoned, objective argument.

For example, the author claims that without factoring in the “community/psychic/civic value,” any studies measuring the economic impact of a proposed stadium, “GROSSLY UNDERSTATES the OVERALL VALUE of the team and facility to the community.” Credible economists don’t take that into account because elevating a community’s sports-based feels doesn’t do squat.

What’s to become of St. Louis’s MLS bid? SC STL appears ready to take its bags of cash and walk away.

Then again, MLS wants to add two additional expansions teams by 2020, and in January, the stadium proposal appeared to be toast after gun-fancying Governor Eric Greitens refused to fork over state tax credits as part of a $129 million total grab bag of taxpayer-subsizied goodies.

As to whether SC STL could go ahead and pay for the stadium itself, as Aaron Gordon notes at Vice Sports, it would be difficult for Commissioner Garber to walk back his threats and tab a self-funded St. Louis bid, given that the other expansion cities might come to the realization that they too might not have to participate in the great American sports stadium scam. And what owner would willingly give up that grift?