Holden says he supports keeping team downtown

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Downtown St. Louis is still where the Cardinals belong, and keeping them there is still a possibility, Gov. Bob Holden said Tuesday.

A bill that would have committed state funding to help finance a new downtown ballpark never made it to a vote before the Legislature's adjournment last week. In response, Cardinals owners and management said they would move on to other options and consider relocating to the suburbs, perhaps even on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

But in a meeting with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, Holden said the prospect of a downtown stadium isn't dead.

"We will continue to look for ways to see if something can be put together that is doable," Holden said.

Holden said he shared his hope with Cardinals president Mark Lamping, and he plans to meet soon with Mayor Francis Slay to discuss the stadium situation. Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said a meeting date has not been set.

The governor said he has also asked Missouri Department of Economic Development director Joe Driskill to consider ways to help the Cardinals, including, perhaps, tax-increment financing.

"We'll look at all the options and try to be creative," Holden said.

A call seeking comment from Lamping was not returned.

Funding for the ballpark was part of a package that would have committed $644 million over three decades to stadium projects for the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals and Chiefs. Some of the money also would have gone to the Savvis Center in St. Louis (home of the NHL's Blues) and developments in Branson and Springfield.

In hindsight, supporters of the measure probably should have made it more clear that funding would have begun in 2005, not now, when the state is scrapping to balance the budget, Holden said.

The governor defended House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, who allowed the measure to die without a vote.

Kreider was committed to a balanced budget and maintaining funding for education before addressing the stadium issue, Holden said. Then, the clock ran out.

"His priorities, I think, were right," Holden said. "Education had to come before anything else."

On other matters:

Holden rated the performance of his office as "excellent" during the just-completed session. He noted that funding for elementary and secondary education was increased despite the budget shortfall, an education accountability bill was passed and a children's health initiative was reauthorized.

His most bothersome decision, the governor said, was reducing funding for higher education.

Still, he felt obligated to make cuts there rather than to programs affecting younger children.

"Above all else, if we can keep our elementary and secondary education in tact and try to improve it, that gives every child a chance," Holden said.

Asked if his leadership style would be more out-front with the influx of new lawmakers next year replacing those being forced out due to term limits, Holden said, "I'm not interested in achieving brownie points, so to speak. I'm interested in success."

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