Group postpones meeting over St. Louis soccer stadium plan

AP News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2016 3:06 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A group seeking to build a new soccer stadium in St. Louis postponed its Tuesday meeting with a state finance board, one day after Missouri's governor-elect expressed strong opposition to public financing for the project.

Principles of the group SC STL were to meet with the Missouri Development Finance Board over a request to approve $40 million in state tax credits for the proposed $200 million downtown stadium, the centerpiece of the effort to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team.

The postponement followed a statement released by Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens on Monday in which he called public funding for the stadium "nothing more than welfare for millionaires."

SC STL chairman Paul Edgerley said the group hopes to meet with Greitens to fully understand his position and outline the project's benefits.

"While we were disappointed in the statement yesterday by Governor-Elect Greitens, we respect that he and others may differ from our views," Edgerley said in a statement. "We continue to believe in the substantial economic and other benefits of this project to the State and to the City of St. Louis."

Greitens said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the group's decision to withdraw, at least for now, the request for state financing is "great news for Missouri taxpayers."

"As I said yesterday, I'm opposed to taxpayer funding for the soccer stadium, something I view as welfare for millionaires," Greitens said. "I'm looking forward to meeting with the ownership group to discuss a plan to bring private investment and jobs to Missouri."

Outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon has expressed support for public funding, as has St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a fellow Democrat. In addition to state tax credits, the stadium is contingent on St. Louis voters approving $80 million in public funding in an April vote. The city would own the stadium and lease it to the MLS team in a 30-year agreement.

Nixon told The Associated Press he believes it is unfair to characterize a process that will involve at least three public votes as "backroom deals," as Greitens did in his statement on Monday.

"I don't consider being a partner in capitalism where it can make a difference — especially on site preparation — to be welfare for anybody," Nixon said. "I consider it economic development."

Edgerley cited a study that suggested the stadium project would "produce a net positive economic impact for the state," creating more than 400 permanent jobs and generating tax revenue that would exceed the state's investment, while adding an important element to help revitalize downtown.

"We're hopeful that Gov. Elect Greitens, who campaigned on a pro-business platform, will welcome the opportunity to learn more about the upside of the project for the state and city alike," Edgerley said.

Plans for the downtown stadium were announced in November. The MLS has expressed interest in St. Louis as a potential expansion site, but only if a stadium is built.

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AP reporter David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.