St. Louis Voters Reject MLS For the Wrong Reasons. And Nothing Will Change In the City

I love St. Louis, and I’m a proud city resident. I pay my fair share of taxes. This is where I want to be and I will never leave. Like most city dwellers, I worry about crime. I wish the public schools were better. I believe our St. Louis police force is underpaid. I would gladly pay an increased tax rate to address our serious problems. I’m all in.

SC STL committee member Dave Peacock

And before you lecture me about the city’s priorities, and how we need to forget about childish things, like a soccer stadium … you can stop right there. I remain enthusiastic about living in the city even after spending a minor fortune to build a garage to protect our cars from additional thefts, break-ins and acts of vandalism.

I’m quite familiar with the daily challenge of living in The STL. My priorities are in order, thank you. I appreciate the gesture, but you really don’t need to talk to me about city life and crime and schools doing something to fix it all.

I promise to update you the next time I file a police report.

Like any citizen with a conscience, I have many concerns.

But I enthusiastically supported Proposition 2, the ballot measure would have generated $60 million to close the funding gap for a proposed venue to house an MLS expansion team.

As you know, Prop 2 was rejected by my fellow city voters Tuesday.

This is how Democracy works.

But the defeat of Proposition 2 will not prevent one crime, or save one life, or enhance unstable neighborhoods, or reshape public education.

It may have made some of you feel good to swat down Prop 2 — but that’s all you did.

You blocked our shot. Congratulations, I guess.

But in denying Prop 2, you did absolutely nothing to improve city life.

You had every right to say no to Prop 2. And despite my dissent here, I cherish living in a democracy. But the truth is, this victory is worthless and meaningless.

It will not solve one problem. Everything will remain the same.

No one who lives within city limits will benefit from the voting outcome.

This was a lost opportunity, a real whiff, and that saddens me. No, I’m not going to move, I’m not going to run off to St. Charles county. I’m spending the rest of my life in my city home, and I’ll be happy.

But in our city’s eternal and seemingly futile quest for new vitality and freshness and momentum, I’ll never quite understand why St. Louis always gets in the way of St. Louis.

Here we go again.

I saw this as a visionary project that would bring the nation’s fastest growing professional sports league to town at a time when St. Louis hopes to to continue attracting additional start-up companies and a work force of younger people that will move to the city and live here. It would have been a nice fit, symbolizing energy and growth. It would have moved us forward, if ever so slightly, to tap into the generational and cultural change that’s coming.

Oh, yeah. And it would have put people to work. Jobs are still a good thing, right?

And I liked the idea of people flocking downtown, spending money, supporting our businesses.

I liked knowing that the soccer ticket tax alone would have repaid the city’s investment and created a long-lasting revenue stream to be used for the overall betterment of our town.

I was dedicated to judging this project on its own merits. I came to understand that the city’s share of funding wouldn’t siphon existing tax revenue from our neighborhoods and pressing needs.

The actual reality did not fit the predictably false narrative being spun by politically correct critics.

This was not an example of an attempt to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

Had Proposition 2 succeeded, the stadium funding would have been raised by a dedicated half-cent tax imposed on select businesses that purchase out-of-state goods. Additional funding would come from a portion of the usual sales tax applied to tickets sold to home MLS games. We STL citizens weren’t being asked to pay for this out of our own pockets.

If we bought tickets to games, the sale would be taxed. And that’s it: a voluntary contribution, and not an obligation. If you chose not to attend MLS games in St. Louis, you wouldn’t pay a penny.

The SC STL organizing group had committed a combined $255 million for the MLS expansion fee and much of the stadium cost — and also committed to investing $5 million in contributions to city youth groups, and to the funding of scholarships.

That’s why sports economist Dr. Patrick Rishe — who has criticized multiple stadium deals between municipalities and sports franchises around the nation — strongly endorsed the St. Louis-MLS initiative.

Writing in Forbes, Rishe concluded: “This deal, unquestionably, is a fiscally responsible deal.”

And speaking of SC STL’s community enterprise, Rishe wrote:  “This deal, unquestionably, incorporates a level of community benefits/commitment for the City of St. Louis which is unprecedented in scope relative to any other facility financing deal I’ve ever seen.”

I’d already planned to vote for Proposition B, but Dr. Rishe’s study reaffirmed my reasons for doing so.

Prop 2 failed by 3,000 votes.

One of the most venerated soccer towns in America has passed on having an MLS franchise.

I can’t say I’m surprised.

St. Louis has historically struggled with, you know, the vision thing.

After all, our town once told Walt Disney to go away when he tried to make a deal to put his second Disneyland in the city of St. Louis. After being shunned in St. Louis, Disney moved onto another potential location, Orlando.

I think you know how that turned out. You may have visited Disney World.

The dismissal of Prop 2 was a safe bet other reasons, so I’ll riff on this for a while:

— We’re hopelessly polarized, and that continues to stunt our growth. We’re polarized in the city. North and south, black and white. Pettiness abounds.  This prevailing attitude of “I want mine, to hell with everybody else.”

— We suffer from a damaging, outdated city-county split that makes no sense. And as long as this city-county divide exists, we’ll never have the kind of unity, spirit of cooperation and shared purpose to make the real changes that could make this a great metropolitan area. Prop 2 went down, at least in part, because of our insane but time-honored custom of splitting into factions, and lining up with our chosen tribe.

— A lot of people were infuriated by a corrupt and bitter NFL relocation process that led to the Rams pulling out of St. Louis to move to Los Angeles. Rams owner Stan Kroenke wouldn’t even consider the $400 million in public money being offered by St. Louis. With the NFL franchise owners serving as accomplices, Kroenke bolted. And on his way out he trashed the city in his vicious relocation application to the league. This piling on was the kind of thing that makes you disgusted with sports leagues and owners.

— The annoying irony: Kroenke’s portrayal of St. Louis as a stagnant, fading, dying, hellhole that couldn’t support more than two sports franchises gives him a chance to snicker anew. He can point to the rejection of the MLS, and remind everyone that he was right. It pains me to say this: the despicable Kroenke wins again. And so does his weasel attorney that bashed and denigrated St. Louis in the relocation application.

– Kroenke isn’t right; I’m just saying that he gets to brag that he was right when he declared: “St. Louis is not a three professional team market.” That was in the relocation filing. “Compared to all other U.S. cities, St. Louis is struggling,” Kroenke said.

Shut up.

But the Kroenke backlash was a factor in this.

SC STL vice chairman Jim Kavanaugh

— I can understand why voters would be adamantly opposed to doing ANYTHING for professional sports-franchise owners. The St. Louis MLS group led by Paul Edgerley, Jim Kavanaugh, Terry Matlack and Dave Peacock had good intentions. They were not scoundrels seeking to loot St. Louis city. They were nothing like Kroenke.

These gents were planning to invest $260 million, which includes the community benefits package. They agreed to guarantee taking responsibility for all future stadium maintenance. This was not an NFL deal. The NFL didn’t want to be here. The NFL abused St. Louis.

The MLS really wanted to be here. This was not “welfare for billionaire sports owners.” But again, I get it. With the Kroenke-NFL bad blood, the animosity was palpable. And toxic.

— And that’s why some voters punished STL SC, the MLS and MLS commissioner Don Garber for the sins of Kroenke, the NFL, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. And the cost of this project — relatively speaking — was tip-jar money compared to the cost of doing business with the NFL.

Killing the MLS in St. Louis to get revenge on Kroenke and Goodell seems illogical to me … but then again, I’m in the minority.

— Just my opinion … too many voters did not understand what they were being asked to vote for. As I said earlier, there was a general and incorrect assumption: that each individual taxpayer was being asked to fund this. And it simply wasn’t true. I don’t think SC STL pushed back hard enough against these bogus claims. There needed to be more education and awareness. Dr. Rishe was practically shouting in his analysis when he wrote: “If you aren’t a business paying the Use Tax, or if you don’t go to the stadium, YOUR MONEY WILL NOT BE USED TO FINANCE THE STADIUM!! 

That message never got through, or some voters chose to ignore it.

— I want to say this: if your position is consistently firm  — no public subsidies, ever, for sports/entertainment — I respect that. And if you took this stand on principle — saying if this soccer deal was so great, and such a sure winner, then why didn’t the SC STL investors offer to pay for 100 percent of it — that resonates with me. But not enough to blow up the entire project, slay the MLS here, and foreclose on our town’s shot to add something new and positive.

— And if this SC STL group suddenly has a flip of the heart and comes back to say — OK, we changed our minds, and we’ll pay for all of this  … well,  shame on them.

— Just a question for the PC Bros that were so opposed to the “corporate welfare” for this project … do you plan on protesting the city’s practice of handing out millions of dollars in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) like Halloween candy to the corporations, and large companies, and rich CEOs who scoop up the tax-break dough? I didn’t think so.

— These tax breaks subtract revenue that could help the poor and afflicted, strengthen our city services, boost public education and make STL safer? Did you organize to prevent a $32 million TIF gift to a Swedish furniture store? Or do the PC Bros just conveniently draw the line at sports? Dudes! What’s up with the blatant hypocrisy?

OK, I vented enough.

Moving on, I know some folks are hoping for some “Plan B” miracle to save the MLS-STL endeavor.

I’m not counting on that to happen.

We had our chance, and the MLS was on the way.

Democracy kicked in. City voters spoke.

The message: go away, MLS.

Seeing that we told Walt Disney to scram a long time ago, I guess this makes perfect sense.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie 

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