Are You in for Funding More Public Stadium Improvements?

The Cardinals winning the World Series last year (and getting off to a fine start this year!), coupled with the St. Louis Blues making their way toward the Stanley Cup, certainly heightens the warm-fuzzy feelings people get for their hometown sports teams. The buzz and excitement created by success can be intoxicating. The St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Convention and Visitor’s Commission (CVC) hope that this warm-fuzzy, intoxicating feeling will extend to them as they work on how to improve the Edward Jones Dome – likely requiring significant taxpayer money.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports today that the Rams and the CVC continue to work on a deal that will make changes at the Edward Jones Dome. The lease agreement between the two requires the dome to be in the top 25% of National Football League venues in the country, or the team can walk after the 2o14 season. Sounds worthy enough, but as Matthew Hathaway reports in “St. Louis CVC says public can’t see Dome plan without Rams’ permission,” they don’t want you to know about how much it will cost taxpayers – at least, not yet.

You see, the lease agreement has a confidentiality clause.  The CVC claims it cannot release the info about the Rams’ proposal without the Rams’ consent, even though some portion of the improvements – likely the majority of them – will be paid for by taxpayers. The problem the CVC and Rams have is that Missouri has a state law known as the Sunshine Law, whereby the CVC – a public entity – is not allowed to keep this a secret.  Once the Rams make their pitch, the information should be made public!

It was all the rage around the country to have the public build nice new stadiums and domes for National Football League or Major League Baseball teams.  Missouri proved its middle-of-the-road stance when it funded the Trans World Airlines (TWA) Dome project – now the Edward Jones Dome – in 1995, but refused to go along with public funding of the new St. Louis Cardinals Stadium in the early 2000s.  But fear not – you may get your chance to pony up again to improve the dome!

This episode shows why “public” stadiums are a big mistake. As we can see from this report, one of the first casualties in these arrangements is transparency. While my friends at the Post don’t always understand the difference between private funds (such as those our members contribute to our organization) and public funds (those being used to pay for the Edward Jones Dome), it really is quite stark.

As taxpayers, we were not asked to support the $12 million annual payment the state makes on our behalf toward paying off the Edward Jones Dome bonds. St. Louis City and County contribute another $12 million a year. And, because it was necessary and “fair” to get the deal done, the state also gives $5 million a year to the Jackson County Sports Authority toward Arrowhead and Kauffman stadium funds. It is difficult to make the case that we are “voluntarily” providing these funds and not having them confiscated from us!

Now the CVC will be entertaining a proposal that will require more public funds and somehow determines that we the people have no right to know how much and for what until they and the Rams decide otherwise? Then they will be distraught and shouting about the sky falling when the public does not simply roll over and play dead when they and the Rams decide it’s time for us to know!

Another reason that “public”-owned stadiums are a bad idea is that there is no ownership from the tenant teams.  Oh sure, they will do what they need to do to make money, but when it comes time to make major improvements, they will simply walk if the public entity doesn’t give them what they want. If they owned the stadium, they would only make the decisions that would have a return for them. Instead, they want the taxpayer to make improvements that they themselves are not willing to pay for. Not a good deal for the taxpayers!

While it is a rare occasion indeed, I have to agree with the Post on this one – this information should not be kept from the taxpayers.

Carl Bearden
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