Cards president - This year or never for stadium funding

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- If Missouri lawmakers don't help fund a new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals this year, they won't be asked again, Cardinals president Mark Lamping said Monday.

And while St. Louis officials could conceivably come up with a plan to keep the Cardinals downtown without state funding, Lamping said in a telephone interview they'd be hard-pressed to do so.

"When you have a combination of extremely high taxes that are levied on sports teams in the city of St. Louis and combine that with their current financial situation, I don't know how they could pull it off," Lamping said.

Several St. Louis area jurisdictions -- Maryland Heights, St. Peters, Jefferson County, even communities in Illinois -- have expressed interest in housing a new ballpark. The Cardinals prefer to stay downtown and open a new retro-style stadium in 2005 as part of a "Ballpark Village" development that would include shopping, restaurants, condominiums.

After a rally in support of the plan, two lawmakers said that while they believe the votes will be close, funding proposals are coming up just short in the House and Senate. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week, the House not long thereafter.

Returning the issue to Jefferson City for a third straight year in 2003 would be out of the question, Lamping said.

"At some point in time you just have to get the message that the Missouri legislature is just not interested in supporting this investment in downtown St. Louis," Lamping said.

No more room at Busch

Team officials say Busch Stadium, with no additional room for luxury seating and boxes, can't generate the type of revenue the Cardinals need to remain competitive. They also cite rising maintenance costs at the 36-year-old ballpark.

The funding plan calls for a state contribution of $210 million over 30 years to pay off construction bonds. The city's share would be $126 million and St. Louis County's $60 million. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen already has approved the city share, and Mayor Francis Slay has signed the bill. A measure still is pending before the St. Louis County Council.

The issue has been most contentious in Jefferson City. It doesn't help that the funding request comes in the most difficult of years. A budget shortfall is forcing the state to cut expenses, lay off workers, raise college fees and tuition.

At the rally, Senate Pro-Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said supporters are "just shy" of the 18-vote majority needed for passage. Kinder said there is a pool of eight senators he believes are "persuadable."

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