The St. Louis soccer stadium is being designed to provide a western endpoint to the Gateway Mall, which stretches east to the Arch. A new public plaza on the eastern edge of the stadium would be the size of Kiener Plaza downtown, and would provide another venue for events.

Three months after being rebuffed in their request for $30 million in tax credits, the owners of St. Louis’ new Major League Soccer franchise received a pared-down package of incentives Tuesday from a state development panel.

The new agreement, approved on a unanimous vote by the Missouri Development Finance Board, calls for tax credits worth $5.7 million to help fuel construction of a $457.8 million soccer complex on the western edge of downtown.

The ownership group — World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and rental car giant Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family — has remained in discussions with the board since it was tripped up in December when the $30 million it sought was blocked by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration.

“I feel a lot better about this project. It is certainly more doable,” said board chairwoman Marie Carmichael.

The new agreement will help the group pay for the rerouting and installation of utilities in the area around the Market Street site, near Union Station.

The project will sit on land mostly owned by the State of Missouri as part of a series of exit ramps from Highway 40 (Interstate 64). Some utility work on the site has already begun.

The stadium is being designed to provide a western endpoint to the Gateway Mall, which stretches east to the Arch. A new public plaza on the eastern edge of the stadium would be the size of Kiener Plaza downtown, and would provide another venue for events.

Although he voted in favor of the project, board treasurer John Mehner raised concerns about approving the project at a time when the world is focused on battling the coronavirus.

“I’m worried about the optics…, and whether this is the exact right time to take action,” said Mehner, who suggested waiting for up to two months to take up action on the tax credits.

Otis Williams, director of St. Louis’ Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, urged the board to grant its approval so the stadium could be open for the start of the team’s season in March 2022.

“Work has started and the project is moving forward. It would be prudent for us to have this portion locked down,” Williams said.

“We’re on a tight time line,” added Bill Kuehling, a Thompson Coburn attorney who is working for the ownership group.

Construction workers were busy on the site Tuesday morning. At least one ramp to Highway 40 (Interstate 64) had already been removed. 

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who sits on the development board, said he views the board’s action as sending a signal to people dealing with the coronavirus outbreak that the state is committed to job creation.

“We want people to understand we will get through this,” Kehoe told board members.

The St. Louis Port Authority was also scheduled to consider a resolution expanding its boundaries Tuesday morning, another action tied to the stadium’s development. The MLS ownership group has asked the city for a special 1% sales tax on stadium purchases levied through the port. That would be on top of two other 1% sales taxes through a Community Improvement District and a Transportation Development District.

The Port sales tax has been held up by St. Louis aldermen wary of expanding the powerful Port Authority’s boundaries from the Mississippi Riverfront across the entire city, as was initially proposed in 2018. Many port authorities in Missouri cover all of the city or county they are in. 

A scaled back version extending the St. Louis Port Authority to cover much of downtown to the MLS stadium site was presented to the port board Tuesday. But Williams asked that a vote be delayed while his staff firms up support among aldermen, who aren’t scheduled to meet again until next month. 

A larger port would allow the city to take advantage of new state law allowing it to capture some state tax revenue generated by new jobs within its boundaries. And, Williams said, there could well be new federal grants available to port districts if Congress passes some sort of stimulus in the wake of the coronavirus. 

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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