The bill is dead, but stadium plans still stand

Sunday, May 19, 2002

The Associated PressJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- This is not an obituary.

True, a bill that would have committed state money to stadium projects in St. Louis and Kansas City is dead. But the plans to build a new ballpark for the Cardinals live on.

So do the efforts to renovate the stadiums of the Chiefs and Royals. And so do plans for new developments in Springfield and Branson that had been in the bill.

When the Legislature's 2002 session ended Friday, lawmakers left the stadium bill on their desks and went home. The bill faced too many delays from those who said they were either lukewarm or flat-out opposed to committing money to sports in a tight budget year.

The Cardinals -- the focal point of the failed legislation -- had repeatedly warned that they plan to look beyond downtown St. Louis for a new place to play if they failed to secure state money this year.

Team President Mark Lamping made those warnings official after the session adjourned Friday. He said that besides downtown St. Louis, team owners are now considering eight counties in the metro area, four in Missouri and four in Illinois.

With or without state money, Lamping said the Cardinals must replace Busch Stadium to keep up with other teams who have built money-making new ballparks.

"The economics of staying in an aging Busch Stadium demand that we act now," Lamping said. "The actions of teams we must play each season require it and our fans deserve it."

Cardinals players and coaches back up Lamping's assertions that Busch seems to be getting harder to maintain.

"All you've got to do is just live in this clubhouse for a few hours and you'll see why I pay attention to the stadium issue," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Friday. "I have more of a problem with the dirty brown water that comes out of the sink than the roaches."

The stadium plan would have authorized the state to spend $644 million over three decades, with the biggest bulk benefitting the Cardinals, Chiefs and Royals. Some of that money also would have gone to the Savvis Center in St. Louis, an exposition center in Springfield and a convention center and arena in Branson.

In the end, many lawmakers said their constituents opposed the bill, and balancing the budget took priority.

"This session was not all about stadiums," said House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, who was widely blamed by stadium supporters for delaying the bill in the session's final days.

He didn't mind.

"If you want to blame me for that, and write about it in the papers, then they'll probably elect me to the Senate," said Kreider, who is running for a new Senate seat in southwest Missouri.

Opponents of using public money for the ballpark declared victory. The St. Louis-based Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums thanked lawmakers for allowing the bill to die.

"We thank the Legislature for demonstrating responsibility and integrity in resisting the pressure applied by the Cardinals and their allies," said a statement released by the group.

The coalition said it still planned to file petitions with 19,000 signatures seeking a citywide vote on future stadiums. If St. Louisans approve it, all future use of city money for stadiums would have to be approved by voters.

The Cardinals owners still want a new home, and they intend to pursue just that. But it will be a battle for the city to keep the team downtown.

"We had the playing field to ourselves," said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Now, he said, "we will have competition, and that cannot possibly be a positive development."

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