What I Saw at the Stadium Hearing
On Saturday, the Saint Louis Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee held a public comment session on the Near North Riverfront. The topic was a plan to publicly fund a new stadium in hopes of keeping the Saint Louis Rams in town. From start to finish, it was a rambunctious affair.
People on both sides booed, cheered, and tried to shout each other down. The following is a list of impressions that I took away from the meeting:
1. Stadium supporters are still delusional about the benefits of a riverfront stadium.
We’ve talked about this before, but it was very clear that many aldermen and stadium supporters in the public believe, despite decades of studies from economists (and the experience with the Edward Jones Dome), that a stadium will make the city money. The people who already believe that a stadium is a great idea quickly latched on to dubious revenue projections from the mayor’s office and the Saint Louis Regional Chamber. They continue to ignore what is the consensus among economists: NFL stadiums do not create growth, spur development, or greatly increase tax revenue.
2. Many city residents are against the plan, and especially want a vote.
The vast majority of city residents who spoke were skeptical of the stadium plan. But what city residents heavily criticized, again and again, was the idea that Board of Aldermen might approve the stadium funding plan without a public vote.
3. The city-county divide was on display.
The first speaker in favor of the stadium plan was from Saint Louis County, and some in the audience tried to shout him down because he didn't live in the city. The committee chair appropriately defended the right of those not from Saint Louis City to speak, but over the course of the session a pattern established itself. Most of those speaking in favor of the stadium plan lived in the county (or Illinois), and most of those opposing the plan were city residents.
4. The session became more rally than public hearing.
At any normal public hearing, the Board of Aldermen meets in a hearing room or auditorium. Aldermen ask questions of speakers, and anyone who disrupts the meeting is escorted out of the room. For whatever reason, the Board of Aldermen decided to hold the public meeting outdoors, where the proposed stadium would be built. As a result, speakers constantly faced harassment from the audience for their views. One speaker pointed out that, in order to speak, she had to publicly declare herself as pro or con, something she would not have to do if she had the privacy of the voting booth. I would add that she wouldn’t have had to brave the jeers of Rams’ superfans either.
To see our take on the city’s plan, read our testimony here.