Riverfront Stadium Costs Change, Backers Push Ahead
We’ve covered the proposal to spend some $400 million in public dollars on a new stadium for Rams extensively on this blog. Specific plans have come and gone with regularity, leading to a continuous shell game that can be difficult for residents to follow. That is, perhaps, why a $10 million increase in the amount the city has to pay went almost completely unnoticed.
As part of a recent overhaul of the stadium financing package, which includes giving the NFL all the naming rights proceeds for “National Car Rental Field,” the total cost of the stadium went up about $10 million dollars. With NFL uninterested in paying anything (much less more), and state legislators in near revolt over the governor’s plan to unilaterally extend bonds for the stadium, the city is left holding the bag. Its total payments will increase from an estimate $150 million to $160 million:
Ten million dollars is not a small amount for Saint Louis City. That’s the equivalent of the annual salaries of 190 teachers or the cost of 20 brand new buses. It should not be treated like a rounding error.
Worse than the cost escalation is the reaction of stadium backers to the funding reconfiguration. I sat in hearings where city representatives said, in contradiction to dozens of academic studies, that the stadium would be an economic boon for Saint Louis. I heard how the city was supposedly shifting risk to the NFL by using naming rights dollars to pay for the stadium and paying the NFL back with future tax revenue. I heard how the stadium plan would supposedly be a tax benefit to the city.
Now that the naming rights are going to the NFL and the cost of the stadium has gone up, has this prompted stadium backers to rethink their support? Unfortunately, no. Now they simply argue that keeping the tax revenue and giving away the naming rights proceeds was always better for the city all along. And what’s ten million when the Chamber of Commerce thinks the stadium will generate more than $100 million in new taxes?
With this type of non-response to a worsening deal, what reaction can we expect when we find out who will pay for maintenance? Or when someone has to pay to refurbish the Edward Jones Dome? Or if there are cost overruns? Will stadium backers still claim the plan makes financial sense, or that it is too late to turn back?