Cards to St. Louis: Money all gone, send more

As you may recall, part of the St. Louis Cardinals‘ pitch for $130 million in public money for their new Busch Stadium was that the team would build a “Ballpark Village,” including stores and condo towers, on the site of the old Busch Stadium. The new stadium opened in April, but the old site is still a dust pit – and it will remain so, the Cards owners now say, unless they get tax breaks that could be worth as much as $100 million.

In particular, the team would be looking to tap into a state program that allows developers to keep half of the new sales tax revenues from a development (sales tax increment financing, or a STIF), plus having the city kick back increased property-tax revenues to pay for construction costs (more traditional tax increment financing, or a TIF). Mayor Francis Slay seems inclined to approve the package, with top aide Jeff Rainford telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “We want the biggest, most exciting, most transformative project possible” and dismissing critics of further subsidies as “small thinkers.”

The whole mess points up the problem with the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stadium-and-development packages that are becoming increasingly popular, both as public opposition to stadium subsidies rises and as baseball teams try to cash in on MLB’s revenue-sharing deduction: Unless you get ironclad commitments for all the development up front, there’s no guarantee you won’t have to kick in more taxpayer money once it’s time to build the “public benefits” part of the project. We’ve already seen this, in a fashion, in Washington, D.C., where the city is looking at having to increase its total subsidy to more than $700 million to smooth the way for ancillary development; and folks are worried it will happen in Brooklyn, where New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner certainly has a track record of such things.

It’s all enough that city officials in Fremont might want to make sure they read the fine print before signing on to Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff’s stadium-for-condos plan: Additional charges may apply.

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