Opponents of the publicly funded $64 million renovation to Scottrade Center filed suit Friday to stop the project, alleging the plan is unconstitutional in Missouri.
And on the same day, a spokesman for St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said she has no intention of signing the bond documents that would fund the city's commitment to the arena.
"The Comptroller has not approved the transaction to issue bonds for the renovation of Scottrade Center, as it would incur debt to the city's general fund for nonessential services and negatively impact the city's credit," Green spokesman Tyson Pruitt said.
Pruitt said the comptroller is asking other city officials to find a new way to fund the project. Her refusal to approve the bond transaction raises legal questions about the comptroller's ability to impede proposals passed by the Board of Aldermen.
The city of St. Louis, the St. Louis Blues, and the leaseholders Kiel Center Partners are among the defendants named in the lawsuit filed Friday. It was filed on behalf of Alderwoman Cara Spencer, former state House Rep. Jeanette Oxford, and former city counselor James Wilson.
The lawsuit alleges the ordinance is unenforceable under Article VI of the Missouri Constitution, "in that it permanently grants substantial public money to a for-profit corporation for the purpose of assisting that corporation to make further profits for itself." The city owns Scottrade Center through a public-private partnership signed in 1992.
Under that agreement, the plaintiffs argue the city's ownership of the building is limited to what is called a "bare legal title" where the Blues have exclusive control over the property for 50 years. Aldermen who supported public financing for the renovations argued earlier this year the city is obligated to pay because the city owns the building.
The original ordinance passed by the Board of Aldermen at the time also notes the city was entering the agreement because it did not have the funds to pay to renovate the former Kiel Auditorium.
The Board of Aldermen approved the new renovations funding in a contentious meeting in February. Coupled with interest on the bonds, the city is expected to pay $105 million on the project over 30 years.
Erich Vieth, attorney for two of the plaintiffs, said the original lease also stipulates that if the city were to pay for renovations, the owners would be obliged to pay it back in the form of increased rent. The Blues owners currently pay $1 a year in rent.
City officials did not immediately provide comment Friday morning. Work has begun on the three-year renovation project.
The suit was filed in the 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis. It has been assigned to Judge Robert Dierker, Jr.