It’s hard not to sympathize with Missouri taxpayers whose blood boils at the prospect of more public subsidies for sports stadiums.
They are, after all, still paying the note on the dome they built for a team that no longer plays there. And when said team moved a half continent away, its owner insulted them further by saying they didn’t do enough to support him.
So you can kind of understand why Missouri and its soon-to-be governor aren’t too excited about a $200 million soccer stadium proposed to lure an MLS team.
But not all publicly-sponsored financial incentives are the same. As such, city and state taxpayers shouldn’t be quick to turn up its nose at St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman and his request for upgrades to the city-owned Scottrade Center.
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St. Louis aldermen will consider spending $67.5 million to be paid over the next 20 years for the renovation of their downtown arena. That money would pay for, among other things, an exterior facelift, seating upgrades, new lighting and sound systems, remodeled concession stands and locker rooms, and a new digital scoreboard.
Considering the revenues Scottrade has generated for the city, yet still has neon purple seats after 23 years, the request isn’t out of line.
No, this is not Stan Kroenke and the NFL ownership cartel shaking down a city for a new stadium under the threat of relocation. This is more like a good renter asking the landlord to replace 25-year-old carpeting and fix the hot-water heater.
Here are some important factors bitter taxpayers should keep in mind:
▪ The city owns Scottrade Center. Renovations and improvements are part of ownership and are a further investment in a public asset. St. Louis will get as much out of the renovations as the Blues will.
▪ That’s because the Blues are not the only tenant. Big-time concerts, NCAA regionals, the Final Four, and other shows and events come through town as long as the city has the kind of venue that attracts them. Scottrade Center — like any other building — needs to be maintained to continue fulfilling its purpose. Otherwise, that business will go elsewhere.
▪ Scottrade Center has been a good investment for the city. It cost $170 million to build it 23 years ago. The city has made back more than $100 million in tax revenues, plus rent, all the garage parking, and its share of advertising and signage.
That doesn’t factor the additional $132 million in annual taxable spending that occurs downtown on the day of events.
▪ Money to pay off the renovation’s bonds would come directly from the use of the facility itself by way of a 1 percent tax on tickets and concessions. This means the city tax base expands beyond its corporate limits to other part of Blues Nation.
All those Blackhawks fans who follow their team to town also will be contributing to the project by paying the same tax St. Louisans will pay. Same with those of us in the metro-east who hop the MetroLink on game days.
Don’t want your hard-earned dollars going to Scottrade Center and the Blues? Then don’t go to the games.
▪ The Blues owners have been good stewards of the public’s asset.
Stillman is asking the city for $67.5 million now, but has also pledged an additional $50 million on top of the $237 million he and his predecessors already have spent out-of-pocket on improving Scottrade Center. In short, they’re invested, too.
Reportedly, Stillman also will be asking the state of Missouri for another $70.5 million for a second-phase of renovations, the scope and timeline of which have yet to be announced. Those incentives may become an argument for another day.
In the meantime, I defer to the words of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who boiled the issue down for reporters Tuesday: “We have to take care of our building.”