Stadium projects pitch economic development

Saturday, March 9, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- There's nothing quite like a snappy campaign slogan, and the one posted on a sign along Interstate 70 reads like a world-beater: "If Cardinals build highways, we'll build stadiums."

Short and witty, there's no doubt its author doesn't think the St. Louis Cardinals should receive any public money to help build a replacement for Busch Stadium.

But here's the rub: That slogan isn't too far removed from the pitch supporters are making in Jefferson City, where a vote this spring could determine whether the Cardinals stay in the city's downtown.

Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff in Mayor Francis Slay's office, argues that the project will generate large sums of money that can be used for health care, education and crime prevention. And yes, maybe even a highway or two.

That's the pitch. The $646 million stadium and neighboring Ballpark Village project is economic development.

"The only reason we are interested in the Cardinals stadium project is because of the economic benefit and the community benefit it will have in St. Louis, in the region and the state," said Joe Driskill, director of the state Department of Economic Development.

So far, Driskill's agency has endorsed only the Cardinals' plan, which would require up to $210 million in state aid over 30 years. But it also is working closely with Kansas City officials on their own stadium proposal.

Like in St. Louis, Kansas City leaders are touting the economic benefits of a requested $294 million in state aid over 30 years to pay for renovations and maintenance at the Truman Sports Complex, home of the Chiefs and Royals. Their plan is linked to a local vote on a sales tax that also would benefit art and cultural projects.

Last year, some Springfield lawmakers joined in the attempts to seek state stadium aid, but nothing happened for the state's three largest cities. Officials at the University of Missouri, however, did succeed at securing money for a new basketball arena in Columbia.

This time around, Springfield is turning to multimillionaire John Q. Hammons for the $20 million needed to build a minor league park.

But Springfield still would benefit -- with up to $9 million in state aid for an exposition center -- under legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder. His plan joins the St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield projects with a state pledge of up to $32 million for a convention center and arena in Branson. It also allows communities statewide to apply for a share of a new economic development fund.

Cardinals' intentions

The Cardinals aren't so brash to claim their interest in building a new stadium is purely designed to help the region's economy. The Cardinals play in the National League Central, a division where every team except St. Louis and Chicago are playing -- or will be soon -- in new stadiums expected to generate huge amounts of revenue.

The Cardinals say major-market Chicago, with fans that pack historic Wrigley Field win or lose, doesn't count. To keep pace with the others, however, Cardinals president Mark Lamping insists his team needs a new ballpark with the cash cows of club seats and luxury boxes

The same argument is being made in Kansas City, where the Royals and Chiefs owners also claim their teams play in old venues that can't keep up with those built for competitors in other cities. As one of the small markets in baseball, Kansas City leaders say the renovations are needed to keep the Royals from being targeted for elimination by the league.

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