Jones, French Blow Off Invite from St. Louis Sports Commission

Feb 16, 2017 at 6:23 am
click to enlarge Jones, French Blow Off Invite from St. Louis Sports Commission
The St. Louis Sports Commission summoned the candidates for St. Louis mayor to its quarterly meeting yesterday, promising each candidate ten minutes "to interact individually" with some of the region's most powerful businessmen and CEOs — five minutes to talk, and five minutes to answer questions.

"There will be no media coverage of the meeting," the email invitation promised.

At least three candidates — Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd — attended, trekking out to the Missouri Athletic Club West in Town & Country in the hours before the workday began to meet with roughly 70 members for their ten-minute session. (The candidates did not get to hear each other's remarks.)

But two refused the invite — and neither Treasurer Tishaura Jones nor Alderman Antonio French bothered to send a surrogate, as the commission offered in its invitation.

French said he decided to turn down the offer once he realized it was at the athletic club's satellite location, not the original one downtown. "To drive all the way out to west county to talk to a small group that probably doesn't even include many city voters? No thanks," he says.

A spokeswoman for Jones expressed a similar lack of interest.

"We thought about going," says Anne Schweitzer. "But at the end of the day, why go all the way out to the Missouri Athletic Club to tell people to pay for their own stadium?"

She adds, "The whole 'no reporters' thing rubbed Tishaura the wrong way."

The privately funded commission seeks to attract, create and manage major sporting events in St. Louis, including NCAA tournaments and U.S. Figure Skating championships. Board members include some of the region's most powerful CEOs and lawyers, including Bill DeWitt III, the president of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Steve Lindsey, the president of Laclede Gas.

It's the same group that tends to push big-ticket, taxpayer-funded projects, like the controversial $105 million renovation plan for Scottrade Center. Increasingly, city residents (and some aldermen) have questioned by the city consistently gets tapped for large portions of such projects, even while county residents share equally in the benefits. The backlash has been brewing within city limits, to the point that everyone who's running for mayor opposed the Scottrade expenditure, other than Reed. And even he voted against it in its final iteration (he says was merely objecting to the timeline, and still supports its merit).

Brent Shulman, the commission's director of marketing and communications, says that a portion of board meetings are always given over to a guest speaker. "Since sports are a very important topic in the region, we thought it would be appropriate to have the candidates at the meeting to speak to the business leaders on our board," he says.

And candidates who attended the meet-and-greet say there was nothing untoward about the meeting. Says David Woodruff, a spokesman for Reed, "Lewis​ Reed appreciated the opportunity to speak with 60 business leaders about his ideas to bring good-paying jobs and new businesses to St. Louis. It sounds like the candidates with no clue how to create jobs chose to ​skip ​the forum instead of expose themselves."

Boyd, too, says he welcomed the chance to talk about his vision. Commission members asked about his support for the Major League Soccer stadium now slated to be on city ballots in April, he says. (Part of an increase in the city's use tax would fund $60 million of the $200 million stadium; at this point, county voters are not contributing anything.) He says he told them he is still undecided, and is waiting for more details — something the commission's chairman assured him would be coming.

Boyd says he was also asked for his feelings on economic development and public safety. "They weren't promoting anything," he says. "They were there to listen to the candidates."

He says he was shocked to learn that some candidates weren't attending: "I want to get in front of as many people as possible. They may not live in the city, but they work in the city. They're concerned about the city." And who knows, he quips — now they might contribute to his campaign.

French, though, doubts he'd be getting any donations from that group, no matter what he said.

"My position on funding for these projects is well-known," he says. Besides, he adds, "St. Louis County contributes almost nothing to these projects. Now they want to summon us to discuss this issue in the county?"

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