By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 5, 2017) US Soccer Players – Everything, at least as it related to the potential for MLS to put down roots in a city with the richest soccer history of any in America, came down to Tuesday.
Tuesday was local election day in Missouri. A day when the citizens of cities, towns, and counties across the state went to the ballot box to decide issues ranging from who would represent them in the city councils and county boards to approving new tax measures.
Measures like the one on the ballot in the city of St Louis. A group of investors was hitching their hopes of bringing MLS to town to a plan that called for a new half-cent hike on out-of-state purchases by businesses in the city. A further question then asked voters if they approved of using the resulting tax revenue to help fund a $200m stadium that would (presumably) become home to an expansion franchise.
That meant there were three possible outcomes. One, voters rejected tax, thereby negating the stadium funding question. Two, voters approved the tax but said no to spending that money on a stadium (it would, per pre-existing ordinances, go to affordable housing and public health services). Or three, voters approved both the tax and the stadium financing plan.
With that third outcome, SC STL, the group behind the expansion bid, could start thinking up names and colors.
MLS certainly didn’t want to face defeat on any front during this booming expansion period. It’s in their best interest to stump for a ballot initiative in any of the 12 candidate cities. That said, it looked sure that St Louis would get a team if the vote went the league’s way. MLS commissioner Don Garber used the word “confident” in referring to the scenario.
Garber and company did just enough to send a message: Vote yes, and big time American soccer would come to St Louis.
That’s what happened a few years ago in Portland. There, a council vote decided that the city’s minor league baseball stadium would transform into an appropriate home for an MLS expansion team. Portland voted for soccer, setting the stage for the Timbers move up to MLS.
Orlando, too, was the focus of intense attention while the city council debated and voted on the plan that resulted in the brand new shining jewel of MLS buildings that opened this year. Again, the most fanatic of MLS watchers dug up video streams from the city’s dusty municipal website to follow the “action.”
In both of those cases, the decision came down the votes of a few individuals. While not assured until the final tally, there was at least some idea of how the voting would break before hearings began.
The situation in St Louis was different. It wasn’t a small body of elected officials passing a package to fund the stadium, but the voters of St Louis residents. The two stage process added even more uncertainty. There was no way to know how things would go until late on Tuesday evening. Needless to say, more than a few people were pounding the “refresh” button on the results page to try and get the latest updates.
If you haven’t already heard, now’s the time to drop the bomb. Prop 1, the ballot initiative to create a new tax, passed by a wide margin. Prop 2, the initiative that would have directed the city to spend that money on the stadium, did not. The margin was a little over 3,000 votes, or 53% “No”, and 47% “Yes.”
The rhetoric leading into the vote was that everything hinged on Prop 2 passing. Without it, the word was #MLS2STL would be dead. The SC STL group, which counts more than one billionaire amongst its ranks, could not – or would not – finance stadium construction without the $60 million in public funds.
We’ll soon find out if that’s the case. It’s difficult to know how many voters in the city actually do want MLS to come to town, either as an engine of economic development (a questionable concept, but one that still drives debate around stadiums) or as a replacement for the departed NFL Rams. If the desire is there, and it certainly seems to be from the surrounding suburbs, perhaps there’s still a chance to get a deal done.
MLS itself issued a statement in the post-vote disappointment.
“For many years we have believed that St Louis would be a tremendous market for a Major League Soccer team. But the lack of a positive stadium vote is clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community.”
“Significant setback” is an ominous phrase, especially with 11 other cities waiting in the wings.
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