FIELD OF SCHEMES

The strategy for a new baseball stadium includes enlisting the involvement of key downtown developers while limiting public say over subsidies

Such a scheme would leave a $14.5 million hole in state and local government budgets. That's not much of a bargain for the public, unless you can come up with a way to replace those tax dollars, which explains why Denver and Baltimore keep coming up in conversations about a new stadium. Both cities saw their downtowns revitalized when new ballparks were built. There's no reason the same thing couldn't happen in St. Louis, say stadium supporters.

Richard Baron, whose company McCormack Baron & Associates is redeveloping the Cupples Station district adjacent to Busch, says he's had general discussions with the team about a new stadium but nothing close to a deal tying a new stadium to redevelopment projects that could help convince state and city officials to pay for a new ballpark. Baron has already broken ground for a hotel and has firm plans for retail and office development that together will take up seven of 10 historic warehouses near Busch. It's rumored that Baron plans a 50-story residential tower that would overlook a new stadium, though he says discussions of anything that big are premature and speculative. "We have always indicated that residential, as part of the Cupples Station redevelopment, is a very real possibility, and certainly we've studied it and are continuing to," he says.

Baron says a new stadium would lure development, particularly residential, downtown. "I don't think there's any question about it," he says. "Certainly we're excited about it and welcome it. It's not necessarily anything that will cause us to do more than we are already planning to do, but I do think that it will open up some other opportunities for development in and around the ballpark that I think would add greatly to downtown, and my hope would be that it would generate even more residential opportunities, which is what we really need in downtown."

Cardinals president Mark Lamping: "It would be easy for us to float all types of exciting renderings of a new stadium, but we just don't think it's appropriate to do that unless we have a way to pay for it."
Cardinals president Mark Lamping: "It would be easy for us to float all types of exciting renderings of a new stadium, but we just don't think it's appropriate to do that unless we have a way to pay for it."

Could redevelopment around a new stadium bring in enough tax revenue to offset public investment in a ballpark? "It certainly could be part of it," Baron says.

Lamping points to Denver and Coors Field as an example of what could happen in downtown St. Louis. "You would hope that any type of plan would leave the city of St. Louis in a stronger position than where they are right now," he says.

So far, the team hasn't been able to make it all pencil out. "We don't have a plan yet," Lamping says. "We've talked in generalities in terms of what our vision for a new ballpark would be. Until such time that we have developed a way to pay for it, we don't think it makes a lot of sense to be talking in detail because new plans without ways to pay for them are simply dreams."

Among other roadblocks, the team must figure a way around federal tax law that prohibits government from using stadium revenue to back tax-exempt construction bonds. Without tax-exempt bonds, government must offer higher interest rates to lure bond buyers, which would add millions to construction bills. The federal law, passed in 1986, was designed to end subsidies to professional sports teams, but it didn't stop the stampede for new ballparks that began 10 years ago. Instead of paying for stadiums with stadium revenue, governments backed tax-exempt bonds with money from increases in sales, entertainment and other general taxes. Lamping can't say just how the Cardinals would be able to propose a ballpark that would pay for itself with stadium revenue and still be eligible for tax-exempt bonds. "That is a very complex question," he says. "We are still early in this process. Although we are further along than we anticipated we would be, we still have a long way to go before we would be prepared to present something to our fans and legislators and, most importantly, the city of St. Louis to consider."

A new stadium isn't a hot topic at City Hall. Mayor Clarence Harmon didn't return phone calls on the subject. Aldermanic President Francis Slay, who has announced he will run for mayor next year, says no one from the team has talked to him but that he's willing to listen. "I'd like to listen to what the proposal is directly, and nobody from the Cardinals organization has ever mentioned anything to me about this at all," Slay says. "I don't want to rule anything out at this time. We'd be foolish not to listen to what their proposal is."

Ald. Alfred Wessels Jr. (D-13th) says he'll be a hard sell. Just one constituent has told him the team needs a new home, he says. Far more have said "no way." "The best response I heard was from an 81-year-old volunteer at the office where I work," he says. "She said the Cardinals need more pitching, not a new stadium. I thought she was right on target." If the Cardinals weren't selling out games and Busch was in poor condition, that would be one thing, Wessels says. But with the team drawing 3 million fans a year, Wessels says he can't understand how a new stadium would bring more people downtown than are already drawn by Busch.

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