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MLS stadium vote cancelled by investors after Greitens’ criticism

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Development Finance Board (MDFB) held a much shorter than expected meeting Tuesday morning in the Governor’s Office Building. Executive Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation Otis Williams called MDFB chairman Robert Miserez and said that investors behind SC STL had elected to withdraw their proposal to the board to build a new soccer stadium in the city.

SC STL announced they would like to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to St. Louis with a $200 million stadium built downtown near Union Station. However, the plan recently hit several large roadblocks.

Eric Greitens celebrates with supporters after winning the gubernatorial race for Missouri on November 8, 2016. BEN PETERS/MISSOURI TIMES
Eric Greitens celebrates with supporters after winning the gubernatorial race for Missouri on November 8, 2016. BEN PETERS/MISSOURI TIMES

The decision to cancel the meeting with the MDFB comes just a day after Gov.-elect Eric Greitens and House Speaker Todd Richardson publicly criticized SC STL’s efforts to get state funds to help construct the stadium. Greitens called the plan “welfare for billionaires,” and Richardson told St. Louis Public Radio that he felt Gov. Jay Nixon and SC STL have attempted to rush approval for the project through at the state level.

“Right now, because of reckless spending by career politicians, we can’t even afford the core functions of government, let alone spend millions on soccer stadiums,” Greitens said. “This back-room wheeling and dealing is exactly what frustrates Missourians. This type of politics as usual is coming to an end.”

In a statement sent to reporters this morning, SC STL Chairman Paul Edgerley said that he would seek a meeting with Greitens to better explain the proposal and its economic merits, citing a study from the Missouri Economic Research Center that argues the stadium will create 400 permanent jobs. SC STL noted that it wants public funding for the project – roughly $80 million worth – but that it would be subject to a vote in St. Louis’ April municipal elections.

However, Greitens’ statement has put a significant damper on the viability of the project now.

“While we were disappointed in the statement yesterday by Gov.-Elect Greitens, we respect that he and others may differ from our views,” Edgerley said. “We continue to believe in the substantial economic and other benefits of this project to the state and to the city of St. Louis.”

Nixon was less diplomatic. A supporter of the stadium project and a key driver of the effort to keep the Rams NFL franchise in St. Louis with a $1 billion stadium project that would have required substantial public funds, he took to social media in what marked one of the first notable rifts between the incumbent and his replacement.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a voting member of the MDFB, agreed with Richardson’s assessment of the group’s attempts to get funding quickly and noted the speed created uncertainty in the project. He added that while he respected many of the investors, including Dave Peacock who spearheaded the Rams stadium proposal, he had significant questions that had not been answered about the MLS stadium.

He also believed it unlikely that city voters would have approved of the proposal for public funds as it stands.

“It was being rushed and it seemed like there were a lot of strings on this garment hanging out for someone to pull, and it concerned me that it was being rushed so hastily,” Kinder said. “I think it was prudent then to withdraw today.”

Part of the reason behind the speed of the proposal is the potential time crunch placed on potential markets for new MLS teams. The rapidly expanding, 24-team league has concrete plans to expand to 26 teams by 2020 and to 28 teams sometime in the future. Two new cities will be chosen by sometime in 2017 with a $150 million expansion fee. Groups in Cincinnati, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Sacramento and San Antonio have also made steps to acquiring their own MLS franchises

Sporting KC serves as the club nearest Missouri and attracts a large fan base from Kansas City, Missouri, but Children’s Mercy Stadium itself is located across the border in Kansas. Some sources within St. Louis have speculated that the most recent developments in this story have seriously hampered the city’s ability to attract the league’s attention for expansion.

The speed may also indicate that Nixon wanted to push the proposal through the MDFB before he leaves office. When Greitens becomes governor, he will have the power to make new appointments to the board as many members are serving on expired terms or serve as Nixon’s cabinet members. Miserez did not want to comment on the potential future composition of the board, and he also nixed speculation that there would be another MDFB meeting held before the end of the year and before the end of Nixon’s tenure as governor.