Op-Ed: Putting People at the Center is Key to Future Stadium Deal

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author. Constructive and respectful feedback is encouraged in the comments section below. NextSTL has invited each candidate for President of the Board of Alderman to write an editorial. 

For too long, the City of St. Louis has been held back by unimaginative leadership and faltering plans for revival. Setting priorities and pursuing a strategic vision haven’t exactly been our hallmarks as a City. And it’s everyday people who suffer the consequences.

This has certainly been true for professional sports. Our City has seen its share of false starts and bad endings, from losing two NFL teams to President Lewis Reed’s failed soccer proposal voters rejected a couple of years ago. Sometimes it seems our City’s leadership just can’t get the job done. And it’s frustrating for those of us who want professional sports teams to cheer for and to represent our beloved hometown.

Last week, the Board of Aldermen approved a resolution endorsing a new Major League Soccer stadium proposal. Our City leaders have eagerly embraced that deal, bragging that a new stadium could generate revenue by bringing people downtown to eat, drink, and be merry.  

Providing entertainment options is certainly important, and it does generate some tax revenue. But it seems that, amid all the hoopla, our City’s leaders have forgotten about one thing in all of this: the people.  

Our City’s schools struggle to pay teachers affordable salaries and to prepare our kids for the global economy. But the soccer deal lets the team’s wealthy owners out of paying the very property taxes that fund our schools.

Our City’s neighborhoods struggle with public safety challenges and a lack of affordable housing. Our City’s workers try to make ends meet on low wages, with little access to quality child care options. But the stadium deal does not include a community benefits agreement that could address these fundamental challenges.  

City leaders in Nashville took a different approach to a soccer stadium. In August, the Nashville soccer team’s owner agreed to fund affordable housing and child care programs, as well as to pay their workers living wages. Those commitments were part of a community benefits agreement that the soccer team’s owner said would make a “significant and lasting impact to our community well beyond what the stadium development alone was already going to provide.” It’s that type of impact that our City sorely needs but will miss out on because our City leaders have not required a community benefits agreement.

The soccer deal has its supporters. The added entertainment value could be a boon to part of downtown and a supplement to what our city has to offer.  My concern is that the people I represent are left to fend for themselves while the well-heeled and well-connected have all the fun.  

In a recent interview, President Lewis Reed talked about the pride he would feel when a new soccer stadium opened. I’m sure he plans to cozy up in an expensive suite in the new stadium with his favorite campaign donors and lobbyists.  It’s City leaders like Reed who this soccer deal takes care of — it’s the people who are left out.

Luckily, the resolution that passed this week is not binding, and can be revised. In crafting the final deal, City leaders should put the people at the very center by requiring a community benefits agreement that ensures, like in Nashville, that the stadium’s development makes a lasting impact on everyday St. Louisans. Our strategic vision as City must put everyday people at the center. Anything less is simply not acceptable.