St. Louis Losing MLS Backer in Jay Nixon

St. Louis MLS stadium rendering

Missouri governor Jay Nixon has not been shy in his support for stadiums in St. Louis, but the fate of an MLS proposal in the city is falling beyond his reach. 

Nixon, who was term limited and could not run in the 2016 gubernatorial election, has been involved in some notable stadium proposals in St. Louis. The governor backed a controversial, and ultimately unsuccessful proposal for a new football facility to keep the NFL’s St. Louis Rams from relocating. Once the Rams confirmed their move to Los Angeles, plans to attract an MLS expansion team to the city intensified, and Nixon offered his support.

The result has been a proposed stadium, expected to cost somewhere around $200 million near Union Station. St. Louis and SC STL officials have proposed a private/public partnership to pay for the stadium, with city funding and state tax credits part of the plan. A vote on $40 million in tax credits was to have taken place last week, but was delayed after a harsh critique from Missouri governor-elect Eric Greitens.

Greitens, who was especially critical of the use of public funds in the proposal, does will officially succeed Nixon until he is sworn in on January 9. However, it is clear that in order for the stadium to move forward, officials will need to sway Greitens, as time is running out for the Nixon administration. More from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Maybe the MLS stadium will end better, though it’s not looking so good at the moment. Whether Greitens maintains a hard-line stance against all forms of corporate welfare or finds some Nixonesque wiggle room, his response will play a major role not just in the soccer stadium discussions but in other big development proposals in St. Louis, nearly all of which involve public subsidy.

At the very least, Nixon points out, the soccer proposal seeks to do what the Rams one didn’t: involve the public in a meaningful way. As the governor leaves Jefferson City — a place that’s been his home since 1992 — and moves to St. Louis, he wants to see his new home take advantage of what he believes is an “incredible opportunity.”

For eight years, Nixon has used sports metaphors to describe his actions on matters from economic development to energy policy. Sports is where he is most comfortable. In one of his first interviews with me after he became governor, he described his style as “three yards and a cloud of dust.” His point was he wasn’t going to be flashy, but steady, always plodding toward the goal line.

“The clock is ticking,” Nixon said Friday. He was talking about the soccer stadium but could have just as easily been referencing his political career. On his way out of the public arena, he seeks one last victory.

“This is that moment,” he said. “Does St. Louis want to be Major League or not?”

SC STL officials indicated after last week’s vote was delayed that they wanted to meet with Greitens in hopes of clearing up his issues with the project. Time will tell if Greitens can be swayed, but with Nixon leaving office, the plan in St. Louis now needs the support of Missouri’s future governor.

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