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Stadium funding measure to be weighed by voters


By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

With the Cardinals' awe-inspiring season behind them, St. Louis County voters will shift their focus off the players and toward the team's new $397 million ballpark when they go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 2.

The County Council last year kicked in $45 million for the new stadium through a bond issue, but the repayment of those bonds is subject to annual appropriations by the council, a move voters could block by approving Propositton A.

More than 30,000 people signed a petition to place on the ballot a measure to amend the County Charter to require voter approval before the County Council could spend pub-lic money on sports stadiums. Separate council votes would be required for the $2.3 million annual appropriations to pay the Cardinal stadium bonds, but Prop A would require a countywide vote each year.

But a St. Louis County official contends the county is obligated to make payments, which would be funded by the county's hotel-motel tax.

"It is my understanding that the county is obligated to make those payments according to the language used when the bonds were issued," county spokesman Mac Scott said. "This may be something that has to be handled by the courts."

However, the bond prospectus of the Mis-souri Development Finance Board, which actually issued the bonds for the county, states, "The bonds are not a debt or obligation of the county, the state of Missouri or any of its political subdivisions, and neither the county, the state nor any of its political subdivisions is obligated to pay the bonds."

If Propositton A is approved, "the people who bought the bonds are going to lose their money," said Fred Lindecke, spokes-man for the Coalition Against Public Fund-ing for Stadiums, which led the petition drive. "Everybody involved in this deal knew what the stakes were. These (moral obligation) bonds are not backed up by anything. The bondholders have no claim."

The Cardinals already have received the money and this would not affect construction of the new ballpark or public funding for the Edward Jones Dome — the measure would not apply to existing facilities.

The Cardinals expect the new ballpark, which is beio wbuilt adjacent to the existing Busch Stadium, will be ready for opening day of the 2006 season.

With interest mounting until 2033, when the bonds are to be retired, the county actually would pay $108 million, not just $45 million, Lindecke told the Call.

"That money should be spent on legitimate public services, instead of beio wwasted on subsidizio w17 millionaires (Cardinal owners) on an ego trip," he contended.

Cardinals representatives did not return telephone messages from the Call before press time.

The coalition, which led the petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, claims Cardinal owners misled the public when requesting taxpayer assistance. While the owners say they'll pay three-quarters of the cost, Lindecke says the Cardinals have several revenue sources to offset any costs coming out of their own pocket:

• $150 million over 30 years from the city of St. Louis through a repeal of the 5 percent admissions tax on Cardinal tickets.

• $20 million in city-granted property tax abatement on the stadium.

• At least $100 million from corporate sponsorship of the new stadium during the next 30 years — the Cardinals announced in August a $3 million to $5 million deal with Anheuser-Busch though the team wouldn't provide the exact figure.

• And $40 million from the Ballpark Founder's Program.

With that $310 million, plus $45 million and $42.5 million contributions from the county and state respectively, the Cardinals have enough money to pay for the stadium. The owners will get back their $290 million investment and generate billions by housio wbaseball games and selling merchandise, the coalition claims.

Because the council issued the bonds without voter approval, repayment requires an annual appropriation. If the bonds hadibeen voter approved, repayment would have been required.

County Councilman John Campisi welcomes the referendum, but said the council made the appropriate choice when it decided to help fund the new ballpark.

"I respect anybody that wants to put some-thing on the ballot," the south county Re-publican said. "There were a lot more people that were for giving that money toward the stadium, at least according to calls to my office. That money is for travel and tourism. Watching the games now, that stadium is packed and it's not just people from this area, it's people throughout Missouri, people from Illinois and other parts of the Mid-west that want to go to these games. That is a tourism attraction. A lot of businesses around here see the impact from that. I think we did the right thing."

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