A judge has ruled that the city of St. Louis does not need the approval of the taxpayers to spend millions of tax dollars on a new riverfront stadium.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley invalidated a city ordinance that would have required officials to place the spending for a new multi-million-dollar stadium on the ballot for voters to approve. Frawley criticized the ordinance as “too vague” and fraught with too many “uncertainties.”
The judge also decided to invalidate a state law requiring that any new stadium be adjacent to the city’s convention center. Frawley opined that the proposed site for the new riverfront stadium was “close enough” to the convention center downtown to satisfy the law.
Proponents of the stadium celebrated the ruling as “extraordinary” and immediately began to push for spending nearly $998 million in tax dollars on plans to build the new stadium and to improve the local infrastructure to support it.
“The court’s opinion is a victory for a bold and promising future for the NFL in St. Louis and the continued rebirth of our downtown,” Dave Peacock, a member the stadium spending committee appointed by Missouri’s Democrat governor, said in a statement.
Mary Ellen Ponder, chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, said that the mayor felt the judge’s decision was flawed. The mayor, she said, would seek a new, better written ordinance to require voter approval of such massive spending projects even though he supports the new stadium.
Fred Lindecke, one of the councilmen who helped pass the ordinance thought the ruling was a terrible one. “The people voted. And now the judge has said forget all that. It makes me angry,” he said.
“The law is as clear and straightforward as you can get. It covers every kind of technique known to man for getting into the taxpayer’s pocket,” Lindecke continued. “And it says very clearly, without ambiguity, that people have a right to vote before any of their tax money is used to build a stadium. I would hope that someone in city government would be as upset as I am, and would try to do something about it.”
The debate on funding the new stadium in St. Louis comes on the tail of growing evidence that local economies do not get an economic bump by having multi-million-dollar stadiums built in their area.
Only months ago, for instance, Dennis Coates, a scholar at the University of Maryland, noted that these sports stadium deals don’t do anything for the local economy. “You’re not going to get income growth; you’re not going to get tax growth; you’re not going to get employment growth,” he said.
But now, according to this judge in St. Louis, city and state officials can spend over $900 million of the citizens’ taxes on this project without even asking permission.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com