ST. LOUIS (CN) – Attorneys for a St. Louis football stadium told a city judge Thursday that an ordinance requiring a public vote on funding for a new stadium conflicts with state law and is too vague.
The Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority filed for declaratory relief from the 2002 law in April.
The Convention and Sports Authority, which runs the St. Louis Rams’ home field at the Edward Jones Dome, wants to build a new stadium on the Mississippi riverfront to keep the Rams from moving to Los Angeles.
The authority wants to issue new bonds to pay off the bonds used to build the old stadium, and to help pay for the new one. The cost of the new stadium is estimated at $1 billion; the Rams and NFL are to pay half.
It claims that since the city’s burden would not change – $6 million a year to be paid from the hotel-motel tax – no public vote is needed.
Robert Blitz, an attorney for the Convention and Sports Authority, told City Judge Thomas Frawley that the Convention and Sports Authority was created by a series of state laws (the RSA statutes) in the 1980s.
In a 3½-hour hearing Thursday, Blitz said that stadium funding for the St. Louis area was a statewide concern, which is why the RSA statutes were adopted.
Blitz said the 2002 ordinance conflicts with the RSA statutes because it retroactively imposes a vote requirement. He said that voters already had a say when they approved the hotel-motel tax.
“The statutes of Missouri, one of which is the RSA statute, does not require a vote of the electorate,” Blitz told reporters after the hearing. “It only requires a vote of the (St. Louis) Board of Aldermen, so there’s a conflict in that statute.
“According to the [Missouri] Constitution, the ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with the constitution.”
But City Attorney Winston Calvert said that the RSA statutes merely set up the Convention and Sports Authority, and has no conflict with the 2002 ordinance.
“The two exist independent of one another,” Calvert told reporters. “The RSA statutes create the RSA, delineates what the RSA’s authority is and sets up how the city and [St. Louis] County and the RSA can work together. It empowers them to work together, but it doesn’t even purport to get into how the city does decide how to move forward with a particular type of financial assistance.”
Blitz said the bill is too vague and questioned several definitions of terms in the ordinance.
Frawley grilled Calvert on those definitions, asking questions such as what the public would be voting on, the definition of financial assistance, and what governing body would be charged with accepting the fiscal note and organizing a public hearing and vote.
Another argument centered on the city’s claim that the RSA statutes require a new stadium to be built next to its present convention center.
Christopher Bauman, also representing the Convention and Sports Authority, said the RSA statues state that either a stadium or stadium complex should be next to a current convention center. Bauman referred to artist renderings that the plaintiff interprets as adjacent to the Edward Jones Dome, though it will be across a street.
Calvert disagreed, saying: “The statute just does not contemplate building a stadium that is not next to the convention center.”
The final hour was spent on whether to let three St. Louis residents intervene as taxpayers.
John Ammann, an attorney representing the interveners, said his clients had no confidence that the city could adequately defend the ordinance.
His arguments met with repeated objections from plaintiff and defense attorneys. City Attorney Calvert said the interveners are hindering to his ability to defend the ordinance.
Frawley seemed to have little sympathy for the interveners, at one point asking Ammann how he could let him into the case, as being a taxpayer isn’t sufficient for standing.
Frawley said he would take the case under advisement and rule on the ordinance and the interveners.
Calvert said after the hearing that Mayor Francis Slay wants to keep the Rams in St. Louis.
“The mayor says that he does think it would be good if St. Louis can remain an NFL city, but the city will continue to follow the law,” Calvert said. “There’s no inconsistency in supporting the stadium and following the law.”
A quick decision could be vital for stadium supporters. The NFL will discuss the possible move to Los Angeles at its owners meeting in August.
Blitz said a favorable ruling before the NFL meeting would help St. Louis.
“Then we’ll have certainty,” Blitz told reporters. “The judge invalidates the ordinance, the Board of Aldermen passes a statute authorizing city financing with the RSA and then you can say to the NFL, ‘We meet your reliability. Not only do we have a plan, we have the authority to go through with that plan.'”
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