St. Louis business leaders once offered to buy into Patriots just to curry favor with NFL for expansion team

With the St. Louis business and political leadership seemingly eager to spend whatever public money it takes to keep the Rams, FoS convention center correspondent Heywood Sanders sends along an expanded excerpt from his book Convention Center Follies outlining how these forces were so desperate for an NFL franchise the last time around that they offered to buy part of the New England Patriots just in the hopes that it would make the NFL happy enough to maybe give them an expansion team:

Charles Knight of Emerson Electric told his Civic Progress colleagues in late March, with the loss of the Cardinals inescapable, that he “had devoted a tremendous amount of effort, as a representative of Civic Progress, in trying to line up a professional football team franchise for St. Louis.” Knight went on, “we do not have a football team and we do not have a consensus among our political leaders regarding the construction of a new stadium.” For Knight, the continuing conflict between St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary and Mayor Schoemehl over a downtown versus suburban location for a stadium was a principal reason for the failure to keep the Cardinals. Absent some form of agreement between the two, and a fiscal commitment from the state government, there was little likelihood of actually building a new stadium. And a brand new stadium was the basic requirement for getting a new NFL team.

Charles Knight told the group, “The inability to get even a verbal commitment regarding the proposed new stadium from the political leadership made it impossible to take advantage of an opportunity to acquire part ownership of the New England Patriots for a period of up to three years—not to move the Patriots here but to relieve the NFL of the cost of having to subsidize the team’s inept present owners and, in return, to ensure a franchise for St. Louis when the League decides to expand.​”

Now that’s dedication to a cause. Or stupidity. Or both.

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One sports subsidy leaves, one enters

The good news: The New England Patriots parking-lot footbridge is no longer getting federal stimulus money. The less-good news: This is not because anyone thought better of the idea, but rather because it wasn’t expected to be “shovel-ready” by the February deadline. And it still may get state economic development money.

Meanwhile, the city of Glendale may be stepping up to the plate instead, as it’s reportedly considering seeking stimulus money for the Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes (at least for the moment). No word on exactly what would get funded by the money — the Phoenix Business Journal helpfully says “financing and job creation.” And even if Glendale gets the benefit from that, given that it’s simultaneously exploring ways to bail out the Coyotes, it could end up little more than a passthrough.

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Pats get stimulus subsidy for footbridge

It’s official: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is getting his $9 million in federal stimulus money for his parking lot footbridge after the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Boston Region voted 13-1 to approve it yesterday. More than one board member opposed it, apparently, but the board was only allowed to vote the entire slate of projects up or down, and the others didn’t want to block the additional projects under consideration.

On the bright side, even dumb spending projects help stimulate the economy, and the construction jobs created by the $9 million will be real. On the other hand, now the state of Massachusetts has $9 million less to spend on a more worthy project. But Bob Kraft is a great businessman, so who’s to complain?

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Pats owner gave money to governor

The New England Patriots footbridge controversy widens today, as the Boston Globe reveals that Pats owner Robert Kraft gave $12,000 in campaign contributions to Gov. Deval Patrick at the same time that Patrick was backing a plan to give $9 million in federal stimulus money to the bridge project.

In other stimulus-subsidy news, meanwhile, the Kalamazoo County commission met Wednesday to debate whether to build an $81 million downtown arena for the Kalamazoo Wings, which could use federal stimulus bonds to pay part of the cost. Commissioners were split on the proposal, but are going to keep investigating it.

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Patriots’ bridge to nowhere to get stimulus money?

It looks like we may have a winner for first stadium-related project funded with federal stimulus dollars: The state of Massachusetts is moving ahead with a plan to spend $9 million in stimulus money on a footbridge between two parking lots that serve the New England Patriots‘ Gillette Stadium.

If the bridge funding gets final approval from a regional planning board later this month, it will beat out a slew of other projects that have been rumored to be considered using stimulus money: an arena in Kalamazoo, the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ arena, a minor-league baseball stadium in Illinois, etc. Most of these would use subsidized federal bonds approved under the stimulus bill — the Pats seem to be the only ones looking to funnel stimulus cash directly into stadium-related construction.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts secretary of housing and economic development Greg Bialecki made himself the early front-runner for the Nobel Prize in Kool-Aid Drinking by asserting that his state is losing businesses to other states because of its failure to provide public subsidies for private businesses, and that that “is a habit that the Patrick administration is trying very hard to break.” (Actual studies show that subsidies have very little impact on business relocation decisions.) Bialecki added that the question shouldn’t be whether the Patriots owners could pay for the bridge themselves, but rather: “Is the public investment we’re making likely to increase private job creation? And if it is, then it’s a good thing to do.”

Of course, if the Kraft family is interested enough in developing the parking lot that they’d build the bridge themselves, then the “increase” in private job creation from the subsidy is zero. Or if they’d build it with a smaller subsidy, then the same holds true for the excess subsidy amount. And there’s no guarantee the development will even get built, or if it does that it won’t just cannibalize commercial jobs from elsewhere in Massachusetts. I’m never going to get hired as a secretary of economic development, am I?

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