MLS Expansion: St. Louis bid still faces high hurdle

Supporters of the St. Louis MLS expansion bid, which is tied to the fate of a downtown stadium project, got good news on Friday as the city's Board of Aldermen passed a measure to increase the city’s business tax by a half-cent to contribute $60 million toward the cost of the stadium and send it to voters for approval via an April referendum.

A recent poll suggested, though, that the soccer measure could face serious opposition.

The business tax will be one of two measures that voters will be asked to vote on, assuming they get approval of a judge. The other is a half-cent sales tax increase to fund expansion of the city’s MetroLink. The transit bill must pass for the stadium bill to effect if it passes.

The MetroLink bill passed 22-3-1; the stadium bill passed 19-7. The stadium bill had previously been stalled in the city's House & Means Committee as aldermen balked at the commitment to the soccer stadium.

SC STL -- the soccer group seeking an MLS team -- had initially asked for $80 million to be contributed toward the cost of building the 22,000-seat stadium west of Union Station. That was reduced to $60 million, then SC STL agreed to increase an entertainment tax on ticket sales by 2.5 percent, estimated to generated as much as an extra $12 million for the city.

"Today marks another important milestone for the effort to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis," said SC STL vice chair Jim Kavanaugh in a statement. "Our group appreciates the consideration and diligence of the Board of Aldermen over the past several weeks, and we thank Mayor Slay for signing the bill and asking a Circuit Court Judge to now certify the measure for the April ballot. This project will be a major victory for the City of St. Louis. We look forward to further sharing our vision with voters and detailing the merits of the projects in the weeks ahead."

Both measures have the support of St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, a former NAIA soccer champion at Quincy College, but it remains to seen if the soccer bill will pass in the April referendum.

In a January poll of Democratic voters conducted ahead of the March mayoral primary, they opposed the use of tax dollars for a soccer stadium by 61 percent to 22 percent. (The city of St. Louis is a heavily Democratic town -- it went to Hillary Clinton over Donald Trumpby a margin of 5-1 in the November presidential election.)

The early favorite in the March primary is Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who has Slay's support.

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