Voters in the City of St. Louis (but not the suburbs) are being asked to pass Propositions 1 and 2 on April 4, which would raise both the sales and use taxes in the city, primarily to provide $60 million in public funding towards a new Major League Soccer stadium. The sleazy campaign supporting the propositions is reason enough to oppose them.
First, stadium supporters are taking immoral advantage of a city recently jilted by the National Football League, much like a guy at a bar taking advantage of a recently dumped woman on the rebound. The ownership group is devoting $1 million that could have been spent on the stadium to a campaign committee called AspireSTL, which is using misleading emotional appeals to the pride of the city, suggesting that these proposals are the city’s only chance to avoid a death spiral. St. Louis is falling behind, they say, claiming MLS will help us get untracked. They claim (without substantiation) that a professional soccer team will “help keep St. Louis vibrant and relevant, bringing in younger and international fans to watch the game.” SC STL’s Paul Edgerley tried to shame city voters into backing the propositions. “We also think that the community that’s going to get some benefit wants to be part of this. If the community doesn’t feel like it’s the right priority for the community, I think that probably says something as well.”
Proposition 1, a sales tax increase ostensibly tied to MetroLink expansion, is being used as bait, to lure low income voters (who suffer the most from a regressive sales tax) into supporting the stadium funding package.
Meanwhile, the predominantly suburban (and wealthy) fan base for professional soccer is not being asked to contribute, other than their incidental payment of sales tax while slumming in the city. This corporate welfare scheme is redistribution of the wealth – from poor to rich.
After St. Louis’ terrible experience with the NFL, would MLS really be an improvement? I think both professional leagues are cut out of the same Machiavellian cloth. Most visibly, MLS, which has never turned a profit, is demanding an outrageous $150 million franchise fee to join. Can you say “Ponzi scheme?” One might also question whether the perpetually unprofitable league will even survive long enough for its franchise to honor a 30-year lease commitment.
MLS has also shown its heavy hand by directing the location of the new stadium. The league’s ownership is fixated on a downtown location, both here and elsewhere. In Miami, it downplayed soccer great David Beckham’s bid because his stadium wasn’t downtown. Here, the MLS rejected a rival proposal of Foundry St Louis to own a franchise in a privately funded stadium near St. Louis University, just two miles west of the SC STL’s site in Downtown West. The Foundry site would have been closer to the millennial fan base it seeks, at college soccer institution St. Louis University, nearby trendy neighborhoods like The Grove and the Central West End, and millennial-friendly entertainment districts in Midtown and along South Grand. Nope, the inflexible know-it-alls at the unprofitable MLS want downtown. I suspect that they don’t even realize that their preferred site is actually well west of downtown. Shhh!
Why not raise $60 million privately, among new investors? If this stadium is the sure thing financially that supporters claim it to be, getting new investors should be a snap. SC STL just needs to expand the pool of investors beyond their private little circle of cronies. It turns out that Foundry St. Louis actually offered to provide the rest of the funds so that public financing could be avoided, but SC STL declined. Why continue to gouge taxpayers? My guess is that SC STL wants to use tax funds to leverage their investment and not have to share their profits with other investors. So, beneath the veneer of selfless civic leaders lies a core of greed.
Frankly, the city has higher priorities. We have a violent crime problem that discourages tourists and locals alike from going downtown, and our police department is understaffed, underpaid and demoralized. St. Louis Public Radio quoted Glenn Burleigh of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council: “If you talk to the people about why they’re leaving the city, never heard people say it’s because we do not have a MLS team. I’ve heard lots of people say because we don’t have enough police officers. I’ve heard lots of people say there’s not enough jobs.” Opponents of the propositions justifiably question whether a soccer team is going to provide much benefit to residents in struggling neighborhoods.
Even the yoked investment in MetroLink expansion is questionable. MetroLink has become best known recently as a magnet for violent crime. Nationally, light rail’s popularity has peaked. The big urban fad of the 1990s is no longer hip. People are beginning to realize that public transportation needs are better served by buses, whose routes can be changed as needed, without expensive, high maintenance infrastructure.
St. Louis shouldn’t be afraid to call MLS’ bluff. We are in a stronger negotiating position than supporters let on. The fact is, MLS really wants St Louis. MLS Commissioner Don Garber admitted to SI.com earlier this year, “St. Louis has been on our radar screen as long as the league’s been in existence.” We are a city rich in sports tradition and (by U.S. standards) soccer tradition, and we are ideally situated for natural rivalries with existing teams in Chicago and Kansas City. MLS needs St. Louis more than St. Louis needs MLS.
City voters should stay tough, stand tall, refuse to be bullied, and vote No on Propositions 1 and 2.