The fate of a proposed $200 million soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis, and the effort to attract a Major League Soccer team, will apparently come down to city voters.
After weeks of debate, aldermen on Friday voted to place on the April 4 ballot a measure asking voters to approve $60 million in funding for the stadium that would be built near Union Station. Mayor Francis Slay signed the bill soon after it was passed. A circuit judge must still approve putting the measure on the ballot because the city missed a ballot deadline.
The investor group SC STL last year announced plans for the stadium. The group earlier this week put in a bid for an MLS expansion team. This fall, the league is expected to award two expansion teams for the 2020 season.
"Today marks another important milestone for the effort to bring Major League Soccer to St. Louis," SC STL vice chairman Jim Kavanaugh said in a statement.
The stadium proposal has seemed all but dead at least twice. In December, then Gov.-elect Eric Greitens, a Republican, said he would not support state taxpayer funding, calling it "welfare for millionaires." The stadium plan had previously sought $40 million in state tax credits.
But after Greitens took office in January, SC STL announced a new financing plan, reached after negotiations with Greitens and his staff, that called for the state to contribute the majority of the land to be used for the 24-acre stadium site, a donation potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.
The project took another hit on Jan. 26 when the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee initially declined to ask the full board to consider placing the issue on the April ballot. But after negotiations with SC STL officials, the committee reconvened and advanced the bill.
Some aldermen are still concerned. Alderman Antonio French said the city faces a looming budget crisis and can't afford basic needs like hiring more police officers.
"I feel pretty confident voters are going to reject this," French said.
But alderman Stephen Conway said St. Louis needs to think progressively.
"When I look at the where we're at in the city of St. Louis, are we going to grow, or die?" Conway asked. "Because if you're not growing, you're dying."
St. Louis became a two-sport town last year when the NFL's Rams moved to Los Angeles. The city had agreed to pay millions to help fund a new stadium to try and keep the Rams. The departure of the team ended the football stadium effort.
The 22,000-seat soccer stadium would also be used for other events like concerts. The project calls for the investor group to be responsible for at least $95 million of the cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs after the stadium is built.