JEFFERSON CITY – A state proposal to help the St. Louis Blues upgrade their arena also addresses one of Jackson County’s highest legislative priorities – state funding for Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums for another 10 years.
Without it, county officials and their lobbyists have said, the Royals and Chiefs leases could fall into default within two years, and the teams would be free to move elsewhere if they choose.
Both the Royals and Chiefs signed 25-year leases when county voters approved renovations for both stadiums in 2006. Under those leases, Jackson County and the state each contribute $3 million a year for the stadium and Kansas City adds $2 million. If the state didn’t contribute after 2019, the county would be forced to pick up that portion – not a guarantee with a tight budget – to keep the leases intact.
State Rep. Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, who sponsored the legislation, said that not only will the funds keep the leases intact and the stadiums in good repair, they also can also make Arrowhead more attractive as a possible host stadium for the 2026 World Cup, which will be in North America.
“When the governing body for soccer goes around to pick sites, they want world-class facilities, and we’re very hopeful we can win one of those sites,” Patterson said. “Just imagine people from all over the world coming to Kansas City.
The bill also calls for $2 million annually for Bartle Hall in the Kansas City Convention Center.
Patterson said it wasn’t terribly difficult to get enough support for the bill from the east side of the state, not only because of the funds to the Enterprise Center in St. Louis but also from state tax revenue generated by stadium and convention center events.
All other area state representatives voted for the bill. Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
The bill authorizes funding for the Enterprise Center in St. Louis starting in the 2022 fiscal year. For the first 10 years, the facility could get $2.5 million annually. For the next 10 years, it could receive annual payments of $4.5 million.
The arena is in the middle of its first major renovation since opening in 1994, financed partly by a $69 million bond issue approved by St. Louis. The scoreboard, sound system and some of the seats already have been upgraded. The next phase, aided by state money, would focus more on the building's infrastructure such as its escalators, roofing and heating and air conditioning systems.
The fact that the Blues currently are making a run in the NHL postseason was mentioned by more than one state lawmaker during House debate on Wednesday, including by some who eagerly described going to hockey games.
But supporters noted that the improvements may be more instrumental in attracting future NCAA or U.S. Olympic events to the facility as St. Louis bids against other cities with similar arenas. The Enterprise Center already is scheduled to host the NHL All-Star Game, NCAA men's basketball tournament games and USA Gymnastics Olympic trials in 2020.
"Without renovations, and without public-sector support for those renovations, we run the risk of being less competitive in pursuit of national events," said Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, a nonprofit organization that attracts and manages sporting events.
The legislation authorizing the incentives now goes to Gov. Mike Parson. It passed the Senate 24-10 last week and the House 89-58 on Wednesday.
Some lawmakers objected to using public money for sports stadiums, though Missouri and many other states have a history of doing so.
State Rep. Bruce DeGroot, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, denounced it as "a welfare-for-the-rich bill."