An Olympian Feat: Killing Two Birds with One Credit

We’ve seen St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in the Capitol, well, relatively often for St. Louis mayors.  He was there the other day to urge lawmakers to extend the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit.  The program’s main beneficiary is developer Paul McKee, who already has collected more than $40 million for his ambitious plans to buy up large chunks of blighted land in north St. Louis and make the area prosperous again. Somehow.

McKee’s biggest problem is that the tax credit program created in 2007 expires in August and he’s still a long way from finishing  his plan to buy up all of the land he wants. One of those he and his 17 lobbyists will have to turn around is Senator Brad Lager, who comes from Savannah, which is a long, long way from north St.Louis–it’s up near St. Joseph.  He didn’t like the idea in 2007 and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year, “We were promised all these great things were going to be happening down there. We’ve spent millions of dollars and we’ve yet to see a shovel of turned dirt.” The entire land assemblage idea has had similar critics from the beginning and the project appears no more endearing to many lawmakers after six years.  It needs an injection of pizazz.

Surely we’re not the only ones who noticed something last month that piqued our curiosity and might become the project’s Pizazz Puzzle piece.

The United States Olympic Committee has asked Mayor Slay and mayors of 34 other cities if they would be interested in bidding for the 2024 Olympics.  A Slay spokesman said the letter was flattering but “that’s a big undertaking.”

Ah, yes it is.  The Olympics will require a lot of new facilities.  And a lot of new facilities will require a lot of land.  And guess who is trying to assemble a lot of land.  And guess what state and city already have invested $40 million  in the process of assembling that land and is considering extending the tax credit program to assemble more.  And guess which of the 35 cities has a significant leg up on assembling land for an Olympic Village.

New York lost a bid for the 2012 Olympics and Chicago failed to get the 2016 games.  Both spent a mere $10 million preparing for the possibility they might be chosen.  St. Louis and Missouri already have invested four times that much in the McKee project.

McKee needs something sexy to seize the imagination of state lawmakers and put some magic into his redevelopment project.  Maybe he and his 17 lobbyists and the mayor can get some traction if they start talking Olympics instead of homes, apartments, and shopping areas.

Let the games, uh,  continue.

STAY-dium

Members of the legislature shouldn’t be surprised if St. Louis interests soon start prowling the Capitol halls hoping to convince the state to help build a new pro football stadium in St. Louis.  The state is on the hook to help pay off bonds for the present domed stadium until the mid-2020s.  So are St. Louis City and St. Louis County.  The state kicks in $12 million a year in payments of 30-year bonds. The city and the county split the other half of the bond payments.

The present dome cost more than $300 million to build but the final cost of the bonds will be about $720 million dollars.  The Rams are free to bolt after 2015 if the present stadium is not in the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums.

St. Louis faces the threat of losing the team a decade before those bonds are paid off unless it finds a way to pay for a major facelift that will cost an estimated $700 million more, minimum.  The clock is ticking on a 30-day deadline for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau to decide what it wants to do.  A lawyer for the CVB tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch it is “unlikely” the city will buy into the Rams’ facelift plan.  What is more likely is a whole new stadium.  Several sites already are being discussed.  The project isn’t just a stadium.  It’s a STAY-dium.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will help provide some funding, whatever that means. Team owner Stan Kroenke has not said how much he and the team are willing to put in the pot. But a million dollars to a million doughnuts, city officials will be asking the state to kick in, too.

That will trigger the arguments we’ve heard before on the domed stadium in St. Louis, the new ballpark (and the, at last, development of Ball Park Village) in St. Louis, and the upgrades to the Jackson County Sports Complex.  Those arguments usually involve whether spending millions of tax dollars on a new stadium where millionaire players perform for a multi-millionaire  owner where ticket prices are beyond the realistic reach of thousands of Missourians is proper.  Representatives and Senators from the corners of the state will ask what their people get out of this investment and whether the economic activity generated by the expenditure of those millions really does pay off for the citizens of all of Missouri.

The timing certainly could be better.  Legislators are considering a one-billion dollar bond issue for state infrastructure.  They’re considering a proposal to provide billions of dollars for the state’s transportation program.  They’re thinking of writing a new school funding formula because they’re an estimated $620 million dollars behind in payments to public school districts.  They’re under pressure to expand the Medicaid program at a time when federal fiscal uncertainty clouds the future of the existing Medicaid program and a lot of other state efforts.

St. Louis will not have an easy time making its case at the Capitol.
And surely someone will mention that the Rams have not had a winning season since 2003 and have been at .500 only three times in the last nine years.  Last year the Rams were 7-8-1 and there is optimism that they’ll do better in 2013. They’re 49-94-1 since they finished 12-4 in 2003.  But Kroenke is a new owner and he has brought in new management.  Nonetheless, lawmakers who question whether their part of the state will benefit from building a big honkin’ new stadium for the Rams might be hard sells in light of the Rams’ inability to field winning teams in a stadium that is costing taxpayers $12 million a year and might cost taxpayers that much money for several years after the Rams have left town.

The Missourinet has seen it all before.  We know we’ll see it again.  As long as there are major league sports, Missouri’s biggest cities will want to protect their standings as major league cities no matter what the cost.

Brushes with Greatness

If you’re in this business of journalism long enough and you spend a career fortunate enough to wind up in the right places a few times, you might brush up against some great people. They wouldn’t know you if you met them on the street later but that’s okay because you are richer from having touched the hem of their cloak.

There is a difference too easily ignored between being famous and being great. There is a difference between being a celebrity and being famous. I can count the great ones on one hand.

Stan Musial was great. And I got to talk to him once.

In the fall of 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals played each other in the World Series. The Cardinals went to Kansas City and won the first two games. Governor Ashcroft and his people arranged for a special train, the World Series Special, to carry fans from Kansas City to St. Louis on the travel day. Reporters got to go along. There were St. Louis fans in one car. Kansas City fans in another. Assorted bigwigs here and there. And some retired major league baseball players. And then there was Stan Musial, bigger than any bigwig, a greater fan of the game than any fan of either team, THE ballplayer among the ballplayers on that train.

I’d talked to some fans. I got some words from the ‘wigs. Chatted up some of the retired players. And then somewhere between Jefferson City and St. Louis I decided that if I was ever going to talk to the great Stan Musial, I better assert myself.

A reporter can ask nasty, pointed questions of the highest political officers in the country, of generals, and top scientists, and big-time authors, some celebrities — but those people were never the heroes of you and your fellow Little Leaguers.

So there was Stan Musial.

I introduced myself. He greeted me warmly. I asked if he had a couple of minutes for an interview. “Sure, sit down,” he said, or something to that effect (it’s been 27-plus years, you know). I remembered that the last time the Cardinals traveled by railroad was the day he got his 3,000th hit. The train arrived in Union Station that evening from Chicago and a huge crowd was waiting to celebrate Stan’s achievement. At the time, only seven other players had gotten 3,000 hits. Since we were on a train, I thought it would be an appropriate story to hear him tell.  And he did. He recalled that he told the crowd that night that to celebrate his 3,000 hits, he was calling off school the next day in St. Louis.
The next day he was chagrined (a word I doubt Stan ever used) to learn hundreds of school children skipped school. And he cut loose with that great laugh that many remember him for. I certainly do. It was a wonderful laugh.

Somewhere I still have that recording. I’ve looked through box after box of old cassettes at the Missourinet and I haven’t found it yet.  But I will, and when I do, I’ll post it here.

Stan seldom went anywhere without a harmonica in his pocket. He was famous — but not great — as a harmonica player. I’ve wondered through all these years if he had it with him that day on the train and if I didn’t miss a huge opportunity by not asking him to play it.
I did find the recording of the day the bronze bust of Stan Musial was unveiled in the Hall of Famous Missourians at the Capitol on September 12, 2000. Before the event, Stan held a press conference. If you’d like to hear it, click on the first link below. And if you’d like to hear his remarks in the rotunda at the unveiling ceremony, click on the second link. He’s introduced at the unveiling ceremony by Jack Buck, who also has a bust in the Hall.

And, by the way, at the end of his remarks at the unveiling — he played his harmonica.

AUDIO: Stan Musial bust unveiling press conference
AUDIO: Stan Musial remarks in the rotunda