MLS stadium and MetroLink advance; Scottrade Center renovations take setback

31 January 2017

April ballot measures for a St. Louis soccer stadium and a sales tax increase for MetroLink expansion made progress at the Board of Aldermen Monday, but some crucial steps remain before they would go to voters.

The MetroLink half-cent sales tax proposal is one step away from board passage, likely on Friday. It won preliminary approval Monday on a 20-3 vote, with Alderman Sharon Tyus, 1st Ward, voting “present.”

Aldermen also voted 17-9 to advance a bill that spells out wording that would appear on the ballot if the proposal for financing a soccer stadium wins board approval. The plan calls for taxpayers to fund $60 million and private investors to spend about $95 million to build a 22,000-seat stadium west of Union Station.

The financing agreements for the soccer bill, which also must be approved by the Board of Aldermen, will be discussed at a Wednesday meeting of the Ways and Means Committee. The soccer stadium measure is dependent on passage of two more bills regarding financing details.

The MetroLink sales tax could clear a final vote of the full board on Friday.

Both the MetroLink tax and the stadium measure would need the mayor’s signature, then city attorneys would petition a circuit judge to put the measures on the April 4 ballot. The board missed the 10-week cutoff last week for placing measures directly on the ballot.

Meanwhile, an effort to fund $67.5 million in renovations to Scottrade Center remains stuck in the Ways and Means Committee after aldermen voted it down 4-3. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said negotiations will continue and the bill will get another hearing.

Monday’s overwhelming vote in favor of the MetroLink project is likely a harbinger of the final outcome. But the few aldermen opposed to the plan were fiery in their opposition.

Alderman Tom Villa, 11th Ward, called the plan “repulsive” and “completely illogical,” considering the city’s financial situation and the estimated $2.2 billion it would take to build the route.“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can take on additional mass transit without the county (involved),” Villa said.

Mayoral candidate and 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French added that the plan is in such an early stage, it’s harmful to advertise the project as a true north-south MetroLink expansion.

“We’re going to have some upset people if you tell them that’s what they are going to get with this tax,” he said, adding that a truly comprehensive route expansion would have to involve the state, county and the federal government.

Alderman Sharon Tyus, 1st Ward, said the plan is part of “a long-standing tradition” of city leaders who can’t say no to a big project despite the myriad problems the city faces.Mayor Francis Slay’s administration estimates the tax increase could generate as much as $20 million a year.

The mayor’s plans call for 60 percent of the tax revenue to go toward the study, planning and eventual construction of a roughly 8-mile MetroLink expansion running from Fairground Park at the north end to Cherokee Street on the city’s South Side.

The remaining 40 percent of the sales tax revenue would be split into 10 percent increments to fund projects in four categories: workforce development, neighborhood revitalization, public safety and infrastructure.