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St. Louis aldermen push forward riverfront stadium deal after last minute changes

Associated Industries of Missouri supports plans to keep the NFL in St. Louis.

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch 

The city’s Board of Aldermen on Tuesday backed a plan to finance construction of a riverfront stadium project.

The crucial meeting, coming after weeks of debate, is an important step in the incremental legislative process. On Tuesday, their deliberations stretched more than four hours.

The vote of 17-10 on so-called perfection indicates proponents have the necessary 15 vote majority for final passage, a vote that is set for Friday afternoon.

Last minute changes were a point of contention during Tuesday’s debate. A group of protesters, clamoring for a public vote, crowded the aldermanic gallery, and a few were removed for making outbursts during the debate.

The deal for the proposed football stadium changed overnight. This time, the National Football League is sweetening the pot, local stadium planners said, with a promise to add $100 million toward construction.

But the extra cash comes with a local cost: Gov. Jay Nixon’s stadium task force has tentatively agreed to rebate city ticket taxes back to the team.

In exchange, the task force is seeking a boost in stadium rent, paid by the football team, from about $700,000 a year to $1.5 million, the promise of which will back construction bonds.

The deal requires approve by the aldermen, who have been considering evolving financing plans since October.

Downtown St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar, a sponsor of the city stadium bill, circulated a substitute late Monday night.

“I apologize for sending these at such a late hour, but these changes were still being finalized until very recently,” Coatar wrote in an email to aldermen.

The proposed changes, he said, limit the city’s financial risk, clarify ambiguous bill language, and boost the NFL’s promised commitment from $200 million to $300 million.

The NFL team — if one commits to the project — would add another $250 million, as previously envisioned.

“The changes reflected in the floor substitute do not increase the City’s contribution to this project,” Coatar continued.

“Were we elected to write checks to the NFL without understanding what we are doing?” asked Alderman Scott Ogilvie.

Task force co-chairman Dave Peacock said the new bill requires the NFL team to pay for any cost overruns.

“If the team wants more, great,” he said early Tuesday morning. “But they have to pay for it now. This is a fully-funded project.”

The revisions, Peacock explained, take another stab at solving nagging NFL worries about the local stadium plan.

This time, the task force zeroed in on the ticket taxes. Some NFL owners had complained that ticket taxes boosted seat prices, stealing profits from the team.

Tuesday’s move eliminates such concerns, Peacock said, without affecting the city’s costs or potential tax revenues.

Peacock said the NFL came to him this time.

“We have been in direct contact with key owners on committees deciding this process and we feel, based on those discussions, that the proposal now will get the strongest consideration by the league,” he said, measuring his words carefully.

The NFL could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Peacock said he understand the changes will frustrate some who see the deal as ever-changing. “However,” he said, “we have to get something definitive and have to put our best foot forward. With any large and complex deal with high stakes there always seems to be a lot of activity at the end.”

NFL owners are scheduled to meet in mid-January. They have spent the last year evaluating two competing proposals to move teams to Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest market, which has been without a team since the Rams left for St. Louis more than two decades ago.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke has pitched a nearly $2 billion stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The owners of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have countered with a plan just down the freeway, in Carson.

Meanwhile, officials in each city have scrambled to develop their own plans for new stadiums, in hopes they can keep their teams in place.

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