The date was January 12, 2016. I will always remember it, because it was the first (and last) time since my son was an infant that I saw him cry. It was the night the St. Louis Rams became the LA Rams and Stan Kroenke became richer and gutted a city. You see, all my young son knew was the Rams. Todd Gurley was his favorite player. That Christmas, Santa had surprised him with a Gurley jersey. He wore it every day. So, when he looked at me that night with tears rolling down his cheeks and asked, ‘Why are the Rams are leaving?’, I didn’t have a logical explanation. How do you make sense of a situation and level with a kid who only cares about seeing his favorite player in his city and wearing his jersey? Do you tell him, ‘Well, you see, greed is a great thing and if you torch a city on the way out to get richer, that’s even better. Now, go to sleep.‘ It’s a night I will never forget and to this day, it’s a night that makes my blood boil in disgust toward Stan Kroenke and his minions. The move of an NFL franchise is much more than what happens on Sundays. It’s about a community, the charities left behind, the employees who lose jobs, and the general feeling of good will taken away from a city. That night never should have happened. It didn’t need to happen. I still have never explained it to my son.
I’m writing this because I’d love for my son to see a team come to his town. I’d love to see St. Louis actually move forward in the aftermath of the Rams, and to maybe, just maybe, take the tears off his cheeks, and to see something added to what is already a sensational sports city.
There is a great potential of MLS coming to St. Louis. On the surface, this seems to be a win on many fronts. More on that in a moment. My four kids play soccer and enjoy soccer. They would love this and so would so many other kids and soccer fans in general. Full disclosure: Am I the biggest soccer fan? Not really. That’s not to say that I don’t like it, but it’s not my favorite of the major pro sports. I enjoy it. But I’m a baseball guy. Can’t help it. Would I buy season tickets for MLS? Oh, yes. In a heartbeat. Count me in. I am supporting this because I love my city. I am supporting this because I would support this project if they said this was a library, museum, concert hall, or any other non-sports entity that would mean a crane in motion, advancement, progress. We need a win. I am supporting this because this may also ease the loss that my son and other sports fans felt when the Rams left. I’m supporting this because St. Louis can and needs to be better.
Recently, I spoke with one of the leaders of the prospective ownership group, Jim Kavanaugh. You can listen to that here. Jim is teaming up with the Taylor family, the founding family of Enterprise Car Rental. They are forming the ownership team that would bring MLS to St. Louis. We are talking about deep pockets and a love of St. Louis. This is more than soccer. This is about making our city and our community a better place to live. It’s about development. They are getting involved because St. Louis can’t continue to fall behind. In their introductory news conference, they said, “this is a long-standing commitment to the revitalization of St. Louis and a lasting legacy to the city we love.” The Taylor family involvement is about making St. Louis a better place to live. For decades, they’ve made charitable contributions financially to St. Louis… To education, The Arch, Forest Park, and that barely scratches the surface. Their MLS investment is about St. Louis. I asked Kavanaugh why are they ALL are doing this? “The number one reason is that this is something that St. Louis needs,” he said. “It almost seems in the last several years the things that are recognized and promoted locally and nationally are negatives about St. Louis. So, there are a lot of positive things going on economically and from a community perspective. This is one that complements all of those things.”
He’s right. I travel for a living and all I hear about is the negative. I’m here to shout it out. St. Louisans are proud. We have a great city. I’m born and raised here. This is a great place to place to live. However, we need to dust ourselves off and actually do something about the negatives. Jim and his ownership team are trying. That’s all we can ask for. I applaud them for it.
You may recall the first time around, the first ownership group took a shot at bringing MLS to St. Louis about a year ago. They had an out-of-town partner as part of their ownership group. They worked hard and did their best as it went to a public vote. Shot down. Over. Then? Things changed, and they changed in a hurry. The new potential MLS owners became an ALL St. Louis group. That’s a big key, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. While some MLS teams have several owners for one team, the potential St. Louis team is a tight, all-local ownership group, and that’s very appealing to the league offices at MLS. Remember, in that first effort, there was the request for $60 million from the public. That is gone as well. “Having the Taylor family involved is quite significant and it’s not only with their involvement but, the approach we’re taking,” Kavanaugh said. “The approach we’re taking is requesting less of public investment. It’s not requiring a public vote. It’s not requiring TIF (tax increment financing) money that taxes the general community and the city. So, the request relative to public support is much less and us having two local families completely dedicated to St. Louis that have deep roots here make it a perfect ownership team.”
So, local ownership, increased private funding, and a tax on tickets only if you, the fan, use the stadium and support the team. Simply put, if you buy a ticket to support the team, you get taxed on that. “We are trying to make this as easy as possible to work this through the system, and hats off to the Governor, the Mayor, and Board of Alderman, and everyone else involved,” Kavanaugh said. “Everyone has been supportive. They believe this is a very good deal and everybody is working together to make this happen.”
In addition to clearing some of the hurdles from the previous miss, the land that MLS would like to build on is a blighted piece of property that would house the stadium. That blighted ground is 25-30 acres of property that would be interconnected to the city just west of Union Station. Again, that fits into other Taylor Family projects to bring energy downtown.
The ownership group has mentioned that a 90-day time period is when they would like to get much of this done. The clock is ticking. Like you, I still have many questions. Those questions will be answered in detail shortly. For now, step back and look at the big picture. Soccer is the fastest growing sport globally and it will only get bigger within the United States. St. Louis has had a long, celebrated history with the sport. Our city has a chance to have this in our backyard. This is local ownership with the deepest of pockets and they aren’t going anywhere. They have a love of St. Louis and through this project, it generates jobs, revenue, and excitement. The stadium will redevelop a blighted portion of the downtown landscape. Maybe, it can help erase some of the memories of that awful night in 2016.
This is a win. This is a step in the right direction. This is growth. I can’t wait to be there with my son on opening night. It will be a celebration not only of soccer, but St. Louis. Please, let’s move forward.