BREAD, CIRCUSES AND THE BLUES

The local NHL team wants to put the city's amusement tax on ice

Stop us if you've heard this one before -- a sports team is losing money and wants a break on its taxes. This time it's the Blues' Mark Sauer playing that tune to the Greater St. Louis Sports Authority -- yes, Virginia, there is such a thing. Sauer says the hockey team sustained a $12 million loss last year. Gee, imagine how broke they'd be if they got past the second round of the playoffs.

The timing might have seemed a bit audacious, what with "Billionaire Bill" Laurie just having bought the Blues and Kiel Center for $100 million, then snapping up the Vancouver Grizzlies (pending NBA approval) for about $200 million. Compared with those numbers, the $3.5 million the Blues paid to the city in sales and amusement taxes may seem like chump change. But a million is a million, even for Wal-Mart heirs.

Several ideas were floated by Sauer, including the creation of a public authority to run Kiel and give cash from concessions, signage and luxury suites to the Blues instead of dedicating it to debt service. The other main pitch was to either reduce the 12.516 percent combined sales and amusement tax on the Blues or set it aside to be used for the cost of operating Kiel.

A siphoning-off of any of the sales tax is unlikely, but a diversion of the 5 percent amusement tax is a possibility. As part of the historic, and horrific, Rams deal, their payment of the 5 percent amusement tax goes to pay off their practice facility, which is located out in Earth City, not St. Louis. The Blues would like some version of that setup.

Problem is, St. Louis License Collector Gregg F.X. Daly says the city rakes in $5.4 million from its amusement tax, with the bulk of that money coming from the Cardinals and Blues. Sports is the main target of the amusement tax; in 1992, the Board of Aldermen exempted "theatrical productions, symphony or musical productions, stage plays, dances or balls, carnival shows or spectacles, and circuses." As Daly puts it, "We're taxing sports, but the Rolling Stones are exempt." The exemptions were made, according to Daly, seven years ago when promoters warned that the city could become a "cow town" because major concerts and theater productions might skip the city to avoid the extra expense.

Sauer mentioned that even "deep-pocketed" owners sometimes sell or move their franchises. So the Blues and Cardinals would like some break and the city's license collector is neutral in this regard, saying his job is to follow the aldermen's lead. But the Blues aren't the only ones looking at their budget ledger. "Everybody's scraping for everything," says Daly. "We certainly understand their position, but obviously $5.4 million is a lot to try to generate someplace else."

 
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