Missouri's Governor-Elect Is That Rare Politician Against Publicly Funded Stadiums

Rich businesspeople want over $120 million in public funds and tax credits to build a soccer stadium for a team that does not yet exist.


The Show-Me Public Money State
Geoffrey Gallaway/Flickr

Missouri Governor-elect Eric Greitens (R) took to his Facebook page yesterday to vocally oppose public financing for a proposed Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team's stadium in St. Louis.

Current Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) has come out in support of public funds being used to help convince MLS to award a team to St. Louis, just as he supported using public funds to build a new stadium for the National Football League's (NFL) Rams, who bolted for Los Angeles last year before their previous publicly-funded stadium was even close to being paid off.

But Greitens is having none of it, writing on Facebook:

This project is nothing more than welfare for millionaires. Right now, because of reckless spending by career politicians, we can't even afford the core functions of government, let alone spend millions on soccer stadiums. This type of back-room wheeling and dealing is exactly what frustrates Missourians. It's politics as usual, and it ends now.

The very rich business-people who comprise the ownership group SC STL, who claim to need $405 million to start up a St. Louis franchise, say they are willing to invest $280 million, which would include MLS' $200 million franchise fee. On top of their investment into the business they would profit off of, SC STL wants St. Louis taxpayers to kick in about $80 million and the state of Missouri to offer $40 million in tax credits.

But hang on, says MLS Commissioner Don Garber, the MLS franchise fee is only $150 million!

The Riverfront Times reports:

…if St. Louis makes the cut to join the league — a decision expected later in 2017 — don't expect SC STL to use that seemingly "extra" $50 million to reduce the burden on city taxpayers. When SC STL vice chairman Jim Kavanaugh was asked if the lower franchise fee would decrease the ownership group's request for $120 million in city and state money, he responded, "No, it does not."

"It's still quite a significant franchise fee," Kavanaugh said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kavanaugh also pointed out that SC STL is already on the hook for construction cost overruns and maintenance for 30 years.

The Missouri Development Finance Board is scheduled to vote on the state tax credits today, and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is still debating on whether to add to an April ballot the proposal to use taxpayer funds to subsidize a soccer stadium for a team that does not yet exist.

MLS Commissioner Garber has called the possible vote a "referendum" on whether or not the community is worthy of a pro soccer team. But using public funds to lure an expansion team is a gamble that can go disastrously wrong. Just ask Quebec City, which lost big on its bet to try to bring a National Hockey League (NHL) team back to Francophone Canada.

The parties seeking taxpayer investment in this private enterprise are making the usual promises of "hundreds of millions added to the local and state economy through new jobs and business," but the evidence that sports arenas add anything more than temporary construction and part-time concession jobs is forever lacking.

Read more Reason coverage of publicly financed stadium debacles here and watch Reason TV's doc on the folly of publicly-funded stadiums below: