Cardinals may seek loan for new ballpark

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

CLAYTON, Mo. -- St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay sent a letter Tuesday formally asking the St. Louis County Council for a loan, rather than a subsidy, to help fund construction of a new ballpark downtown, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

Slay and the Cardinals owners were to meet with county officials later Tuesday. The Cardinals and Slay want the county to put up $45 million of the $402 million cost of tearing down and replacing Busch Stadium.

In return for the loan, the county -- after 29 years -- would get back $200 million to $250 million, and possibly partial ownership of the ballpark, the Post-Dispatch reported. The city and state also might jointly own the new ballpark after 29 years.

If the Cardinals were sold, the county, along with the city, could share in the profits, said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to the mayor.

The Cardinals plan to use mostly private money to build a new stadium next to 36-year-old Busch Stadium on the south side of downtown. The team hopes to have a financing package in place by early 2003. Private investors would build and own the stadium. The Cardinals have offered to pay $50 million up front and $14 million a year for at least 29 years to lease it.

Although a formal plan has not been proposed, the loan idea has near unanimous support among the seven council members.

"If we're an investor and we get something in return, I'm in favor of that," said Republican councilman John Campisi. He opposed an earlier plan to subsidize the ballpark with county dollars.

"It's a much better deal," said Republican councilman Richard "Skip" Mange. "Before we were just literally writing them a check and there was no return for us."

The county loan would formally be made to the Land Clearance and Reclamation Authority, the city agency that would own the stadium site.

The county likely would sell bonds to raise the $45 million. It would pay back the investors with the county's growing surplus of hotel tax revenue. The bulk of payments would begin after the county finishes paying off the Edward Jones Dome in 2021.

Voters approved a 3 1/2-cent tax in 1990 to help build the dome, home of the St. Louis Rams. The county pays $6 million a year in hotel-motel taxes to retire debt on the football stadium, but the tax is generating millions more than that. The extra money generally has sat in a bank account, earning more than $500,000 a year in interest.

The Cardinals long have wanted to tap into the hotel tax money. The baseball club's earlier financing proposal, which failed to win legislative approval, would have had the county making annual payments from the hotel tax fund, eventually totaling $95 million.

The hotel tax was approved to pay for a sports facility, which was one reason Democratic councilman Charlie Dooley said he supported the idea of a loan to the Cardinals.

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