Soccer Mania Strikes Saint Louis County
Soccer, professional and otherwise, is big business across the country and around the globe. The MLS is even considering putting a team in Saint Louis. And now Saint Louis County has decided that it wants to get involved in that business. That’s why late last week county officials announced they reached a deal with the city to spend $14 million on new soccer fields at Creve Coeur Park in hopes of bringing youth soccer tournaments to the Saint Louis region.
The idea of building new soccer venues in Saint Louis County is not a new one. Multiple projects were in the works during Charlie Dooley’s term as County Executive. But there’s always been the question, which has yet to be satisfactorily answered, of whether Saint Louis County ought to be getting into the soccer business. The new agreement with the city will allow some of the hotel/motel tax revenue the county uses to support the convention center and stadiums downtown to fund soccer fields in the County. Officials claim this will allow the County to get the fields without using any “new” taxes.
For anyone who reads this blog, alarm bells should be going off with any mention of the hotel/motel tax. The fact is, the hotel/motel tax revenue stream drives the most expensive shell game in the Saint Louis region. These taxes supposedly support the America Center, the Edward Jones Dome, the Convention Center Hotel, and Busch Stadium, among others. But the yearly revenue stream from both the city and county’s hotel taxes (less than $20 million) is nowhere near enough to cover annual cost of all these projects (more than $30 million). And that’s before considering the estimated costs of rehabbing the Dome, renovating the convention center, and improving the Scottrade Center. Restaurant tax and general revenue in the city, along with sizable state subsidies, cover the funding gap.
So why would the Saint Louis Visitors and Convention Commission (CVC), which coordinates these expenditures, allow money it does not have to go toward new fields in the County? According to the Post-Dispatch, this may be part of a larger deal. About half of the County’s hotel taxes currently go to pay debt on the Dome. Both that debt and the tax that supports it are set to retire in the next few years. The idea is that promising money for something the County government wants may induce County officials to keep the hotel tax in place—and its revenue flowing to the CVC. In essence, spending money on soccer fields is about being able to spend more money on convention centers.
While the idea of the County going all in on soccer and convention center gambits is unappetizing enough, it gets worse. According to the manager of a similar set of soccer fields in Kansas City, the County’s $14 million cost estimate is much too low, and the plan is “a drag-a-long, tag-a-long boondoggle that will end with county taxpayers funding the difference between the projected and real cost.” Not like we haven’t seen that before.