The St. Louis Post-Dispatch business section ran a long article on Sunday about how the city got a much better deal on its MLS stadium after voters rejected the original plan in 2017. Most of the article’s evidence is that local elected officials who expressed qualms about the earlier plan seem fine with this one — though it’s worth noting that the quote in the headline, “Clearly a better deal,” appears nowhere in the actual article — but it also includes this chart:
That’s not exactly apples-to-apples, so let’s unpack it a bit:
- The original plan would have taken about $60 million from a 0.5% sales tax hike on out-of-state purchases and poured it into soccer stadium funding. Voters approved the sales tax hike, but rejected using it for a stadium.
- $40 million in state tax credits had already been killed by Missouri’s then-governor three months before the stadium vote.
As for the new plan, it includes:
- $30 million in state tax credits (okayed by Missouri’s now-governor).
- A sales-tax surcharge on in-stadium purchases (which probably mostly comes out of the team owners’ pockets like a ticket tax)
- An abatement of the city’s 5% ticket tax, with half the money going to the team directly and the other half going into a “stadium upkeep fund.” The Post-Dispatch estimates each half as worth $28.7 million over 30 years, which is a total of $57.4 million over 30 years, which in present value comes to around $29 million, probably less if ticket prices (and taxes) rise significantly over the next three decades and make the tax more backloaded.
Also, in both cases the stadium will be exempt from property tax, which still no one knows how much of a savings that’s worth to the team owners.
So is that really better? For the city, absolutely, as it’s managed to cut its costs from $60 million to less than half that. For St. Louis taxpayers overall, maybe not so much, as the revival of the state subsidy makes up for most of the difference in city subsidies. It’s way better than the very original plan that would have stuck taxpayers with a $100 million bill, yes, but that’s not what voters rejected in April 2017, as the state tax credits were dead at the time.
In any case, yes, it appears that voters did get a marginally better deal by rejecting the 2017 plan — yay, democracy! — but the emphasis is strongly on marginal: Mostly, the city and team regrouped to fob off half the public costs on the state, while converting the other half from a sales-tax subsidy to a ticket-tax kickback. So long as local pols and media outlets are willing to celebrate victories like these, sports team owners probably won’t mind too much failing to stick the public with outright defeats.