As if to prove that when one governmental subsidy door closes, a governmental subsidy window opens, the St. Louis city council followed up new Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ declaration that he won’t approve any state sports subsidies by announcing it would vote on spending $67.5 million in city tax money on upgrades to the Blues‘ arena. A funding bill, which would involve $4 million a year in kicked-back arena sales taxes and a new 1% arena sales tax surcharge over 28 years (yes, that’s $112 million total, but since much of it would be collected far in the future it’s only worth $67.5 million in present value), could be introduced as soon as this week in the city council, and council president Lewis Reed has said it won’t require a public vote, notwithstanding that disputed St. Louis law saying that all sports spending requires a voter referendum.
And why, exactly, does Blues owner Tom Stillman think the city should pay to upgrade his team’s 23-year-old arena with such items as new seating, a new scoreboard, sound and lighting upgrades, and renovated locker rooms and concessions stands? Glad you asked!
“The Scottrade Center is no longer competitive,” said Blues Chairman Tom Stillman, adding that NCAA and concert promoters have warned that they will stop coming to St. Louis without upgrades to compete with facilities in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Tenn., and elsewhere.
Yeah, that is a concern — to whoever is in the business of operating the Scottrade Center, which would be Stillman. The only potential cost to the city would be the loss of some sales tax revenues if the NCAA or concert promoters actually cut back on events, and since even according to Stillman the city only earns $6 million a year in sales taxes from the arena currently, it’s pretty inconceivable that any loss would be worth $4 million a year, since the Blues would still be playing there 41 nights a year. But as we’ve seen before, the first refuge of a stadium-subsidy grubber is to declare the old place obsolete, so it’s not surprising to see Stillman making that claim, even if the numbers don’t quite add up.
And speaking of numbers, Stillman’s total subsidy demand could more than double, as he’s preparing to ask for a second round of money from the state, Greitens’ Monday announcement be damned:
City and Blues officials also are planning to ask state legislators for $70.5 million for further renovations in a second phase, the timeline for which is still being finalized.
That would come to $138 million in public money for upgrades to a 23-year-old arena, with the only public benefit in return being “maybe we’ll get more concerts and NCAA tournament games this way.” A sane city negotiator would say, “Okay, great, how about you give us a cut of the actual revenues from those events to help pay off the public’s costs, like you’ll be using them to pay off your own share of the renovation?” Instead, we get this:
Reed stressed that the facility has already paid for police officers and transportation needs but hasn’t had a major upgrade since it was opened. “We must stay competitive,” he said.
Greitens hasn’t publicly commented on the Blues subsidy proposal yet, but one newspaper columnist has already decried local officials’ “disunity” on sports funding as the reason why St. Louis is having trouble keeping up with the likes of Louisville. Yes, he said Louisville. Apparently they don’t teach irony in journalism school.