St. Louis MLS stadium plan 'welfare for millionaires' - Missouri governor-elect

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri Governor-elect Eric Greitens said on Monday he opposes taxpayer money to help build a new soccer stadium in St. Louis, calling the project "nothing more than welfare for millionaires."

Greitens' comments, in an email statement, were made a day before the Missouri Development Finance Board is expected to vote on Tuesday on a request to approve $40 million in state tax credits for the stadium.

Plans for the new $200 million downtown stadium proposed by the group SC STL were unveiled in November as part of an effort to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team to St. Louis. In addition to state tax credits, the stadium is contingent on St. Louis voters approving $80 million in public funding in an April vote. The city would own the stadium and lease it to the MLS team in a 30-year agreement.

"I'm opposed to spending taxpayer money to build a soccer stadium in St. Louis," Greitens, a Republican, said in his statement. "This project is nothing more than welfare for millionaires.

"Right now, because of reckless spending by career politicians, we can't even afford the core functions of government, let alone spend millions on soccer stadiums. This back-room wheeling and dealing is exactly what frustrates Missourians. This type of politics as usual is coming to an end."

Greitens, who defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the November election, doesn't take office until Jan. 9. It wasn't immediately clear what action he could take once in office to remove tax credits if they are approved by the finance board. Messages left with a Greitens spokesman were not returned.

Outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has expressed support for state funding. MLS commissioner Don Garber met with Nixon and potential investors during a visit to St. Louis last year. MLS has expressed interest in St. Louis as a site for future expansion, though no timetable has been established.

A spokesman for SC STL said the group had just learned of Greitens' statement and declined immediate comment.

The current proposal would mean that taxpayers pay 60 percent of the stadium cost. SC STL has said it would pay the remaining 40 percent, along with league fees expected to be at least $150 million, any construction overrun costs and maintenance fees over the life of the lease. The group has estimated the combined cost of building a stadium and acquiring a team at $405 million.

Critics of public funding for stadiums point to the dome that housed the St. Louis Rams during their two-decade stay before returning to Los Angeles this season. The dome, now empty except for occasional convention and sports uses, was paid for entirely with public money, a debt that won't be paid off for several years.

A competing group also interested in building a soccer stadium has offered to join forces to eliminate the need for public financing, but SC STL has declined comment on the joint venture proposed by Foundry St. Louis.

The open-air stadium would have 20,000 seats with the ability to expand to 28,500. It would sit next to St. Louis Union Station on land currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation.