CHICAGO - The St. Louis public agency assisting efforts to build a new stadium for the city's professional football team is seeking clarity from the courts about whether the city can contribute financially to the project without a public vote.
The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court seeking a decision following recent statements by St. Louis University law professor John Ammann that he would file a lawsuit if the city allocated funds for a new St. Louis Rams stadium without a public vote.
"Our counsel has advised that because the proposed stadium involves a significant private financial commitment and no additional tax increase, another vote by the public is not needed," the authority's board chairman Jim Shrewsbury said in a statement. "However, given the threat of protracted litigation, the RSA is asking the court to provide legal certainty on this matter now so that we can continue to move forward within the timeframe established by the NFL."
The task force appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to craft a financing plan contends no public vote is legally required, a position Nixon reiterated in a statement Friday after the lawsuit was filed.
"Because this plan would impose no new taxes and instead use funding that has already been approved by the voters, another public vote is not required," Nixon said.
Under the proposal Nixon and his task force are pitching, the team would contribute about $400 million towards the nearly $1 billion stadium and the state $300 million to $350 million. The state would tap an existing revenue stream to goes to repay debt on the Rams' existing home - the Edward Jones Dome - to support new borrowing.
The state, St. Louis, and St. Louis County together pay $20 million annually to cover debt service on remaining bonds issued by the authority for the Dome and $4 million for maintenance on the dome. The city and county tap hotel and motel taxes to cover their share.
"If the community believes the stadium is a good idea, the approval process should get started quickly," Ammann said in a letter to the city reported on in the local press. It was written on behalf of a resident. "A hearing soon would allow a vote to happen in time, otherwise, the city risks litigation that would cause unwanted delay."
State legislators have filed bills to require a voter or legislative approval for any use of state money for the stadium. The bills are still in play in the Legislature.
State and local officials are working to keep the team amid a threatened move to southern California by owner Stan Kroenke.
The task force is working with Columbia Capital Management LLC for advice on stadium financing issues and Thompson Coburn is serving as special counsel.
The Rams recently changed their lease to year-to-year as the agreement permits, after the managers of the Edward Jones Dome rejected $700 million in improvements required to keep the stadium in top shape as defined under the lease terms. The RCSCA contracts with the Visitors Commission to operate the stadium and it leases the stadium to the team.
The authority issued $256 million of 30-year appropriation backed bonds under a complex agreement between the city, county, state, commission and team in 1991 to finance the stadium and an expansion of the adjacent convention center. The bonds mature in 2021.