Safe at Home?

At the end of a star-crossed season, Cardinal Nation still doesn't know where the Redbirds will roost after they leave Busch

Long after the memories of Benito Santiago's home run and Kenny Lofton's series-winning single fade and long after Cardinal fans recover from the season-ending loss to the Giants, the lasting impact of the Redbirds' political victory at City Hall will remain.

The Cardinals didn't win their tenth world championship this year, but they took care of business outside the chalk lines, working City Hall to lay the financial foundation for their new stadium, on which they expect to sign a 30-year lease.

Bill DeWitt knows all this after Thursday night's game, walking toward the Cardinal clubhouse, deep in the bowels of 36-year-old Busch Stadium. His team's 4-1 loss in game two of the National League championship series sent his employees packing to San Francisco down two games to zip, a hole no team in the seventeen-year history of the seven-game NLCS has ever survived.

Confronted by Short Cuts, DeWitt snaps out of his postgame reverie to express optimism, hope and a positive spin, all predictable behaviors for an investor who has made his millions cutting deals. The Cardinal owner knows that owning one of the last four teams standing in October was good news on many levels.

A sellout crowd of 52,195 had just watched DeWitt's Redbirds lose, but the new proposal for a stadium is lurching forward through the Board of Aldermen, the Cardinals' key players are young and under contract through 2006 and, of course, the math on the new stadium deal is looking good.

"Right now is an excellent time to build a new stadium because the interest rates are at historic low levels; the economy is soft, so the construction industry is more competitive than it might be otherwise; and we've been drawing well," DeWitt says. "We have a competitive team, so all those things coming together would make you think this is an ideal time to do it.

"Having said that, it has to be a deal that's good for the franchise and doesn't stifle it," DeWitt says. "There's a balance there."

The new stadium deal centers on the city's dropping its 5 percent amusement tax on the Cardinals. DeWitt and his fellow owners see a lower tax burden, down to about 7 percent from 12 percent, as vital to making a more privately financed stadium possible.

Other ways to raise a buck are also being considered, including personal seat licenses. A PSL requires a spectator to purchase a "license" for the right to buy a ticket for that seat. The Rams and many other pro teams have used that device to raise money. DeWitt doesn't rule out PSLs, which would likely costs thousands for premium seats at the new stadium.

"We've never talked about that, but, frankly, we're looking at all options," DeWitt says. "We're just looking at the options -- any kind of program like that depends on the balance of the financing."

Short Cuts translates that response as "If you want a shot at a really good seat, refinance your house now."

The proposed financial package includes St. Louis County's kicking in a portion of its hotel-tax revenue, something it agreed to do on the previous stadium pitch, which relied on public funds for about two thirds of the $346 million cost. That proposal died in the Missouri Legislature in May.

The current proposal would have the city drop its amusement tax, have the state pick up the tab for moving highway ramps and performing other site preparation and have the Cardinal owners kick in the land and sign a 30-year lease.

A sense of urgency has been added by Proposition S, which will appear on the November 5 ballot in St. Louis. If passed, the proposition would require a vote before any amount of city public funds greater than $1 million is diverted to build a stadium. Mayor Francis Slay expects that passing the aldermanic bill for the stadium, which involves a tax cut and not a direct public subsidy, before November 5 will avert the obstacle devised by opponents of public funding of a new stadium.

Over at City Hall on Friday, the new stadium got one step closer to reality with a 24-3 vote on the bill that decreases the amusement tax and defines the development deal. The board's next meeting should give the stadium bill its third and final approval, lifting it over its first government hurdle. Aldermen Irving Clay (D-26th), Sharon Tyus (D-20th) and Irene Smith (D-1st) voted against the bill, with Clay and Smith offering amendments that failed to get approval.

Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. (D-3rd), a frequent critic of the Slay administration, rose to give a rambling endorsement of the bill, stressing that city wards would benefit from the increased sales-tax revenues from higher-priced seats at the new venue.

Later, Bosley tells Short Cuts that baseball is big business and that because of the high stakes, the city needs to keep the team. Bosley didn't buy the Illinois option for the stadium. "I didn't believe they were going to go," he says of the owners' flirtation with Illinois. "If the profits and the money would have made sense to them, they would have gone, because that's what drives them."

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