Lawmakers in Jefferson City skeptical of proposed Riverfront Stadium deal

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – Lawmakers in Jefferson City got their first chance to question the man trying to bring a new NFL stadium to the St. Louis riverfront.  Dave Peacock, the former Anheuser-Busch chief leading the governor’s task force on a stadium, testified before a house committee, Monday.

“Why are we involved in this at all?” Peacock was asked at one point by Rep. Tom Hurst, a republican from Meta.

Peacock provided many answers to that question.  He cited the size of the nearly $1 billion project that will be the largest in St. Louis in decades, with private money raised alone making up more than is currently being spent on the Arch Grounds.

But it’s the 40% of the deal Peacock is asking the state to provide that has some here asking skeptical questions.  House Government Oversight and Accountability committee chairman Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, led the discussion, asking numerous questions about the details of the deal, and how the state might recoup money provided to the project.  Task force leaders are requesting that bonds currently paying for the Edward Jones Dome be extended, tapping a revenue stream already in place of $12 million per year to go toward the new facility.

The Director of the state’s Department of Economic Development, Mike Downing, called the proposal a “good deal” for the state.  Downing offered what he termed conservative estimates that would have the state bringing in millions more in tax revenue from the stadium than they would be paying toward the bonds.  And that money, he pointed out, doesn’t include projections for things like parking and concession revenue, or indirect spending by fans.

The projections, based on money that would come in only if the stadium is built, include about $15 million from the construction project, then a consistently growing annual sum beginning at $1.4  million the first year the stadium is open.  The projection suggests the state would profit nearly $300 million over a thirty year period.

But to build the stadium, there must be an NFL team committed to playing there.  Peacock says he’s received all but a guarantee from the NFL that if he can put together a viable deal, St. Louis will have a team.  First they need the money, then:

“If you can demonstrate you’ve got the property or the land and a design that works, and they’re helping us with a design, you will, quote, control your own destiny as it relates to an NFL team,” Peacock said.  “Now as far as whether it’s keeping the Rams or a different club, we have not gone down that path.”

Peacock says if the stadium plan is solid, he believes the league would live up to that pledge one way or another.

“I would only think the Rams would be approved if there was another plan for another team to come to St. Louis.”

The committee had plenty of questions about the process.  Everything from whether union labor will be required in construction to the level of minority participation was brought up.  The discussion never became contentious, but lawmakers made repeated efforts to demonstrate they were not going to write such a large check without plenty of analysis.

“We need to be accountable for those tax dollars to where we have a history that tell us whether or not these are good investments for the people,” Hurst said.

Peacock’s testimony offered nuggets of progress in the project.  He told the committee that discussions are already underway about when to start pitching corporations on sponsorships and luxury suites in the new facility.

He also confirmed a request for proposals is already out for someone to manage construction of the stadium.

Peacock also said there is movement in the effort to attract a new Major League Soccer franchise.  He said the MLS  commissioner will visit St. Louis later this year.

“We agreed that he would probably come to St. Louis in, call it the next six months, to start having initial discussions both with our group and interested parties, civic leaders, what have you.”

New developments in Riverfront Stadium proposal