St. Louis County Council plans to rewrite 2019 recreation center agreement | Politics

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CLAYTON — Some St. Louis County Council members say a 2019 deal to fund America’s Center expansion will have to be revised after learning there will be no hotel tax revenue- motel available to build a new North County Recreation Center for at least three years.

The two projects — the downtown St. Louis convention center and a new recreation facility in North County — were tied together in an agreement brokered in April 2019 by Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-1st District, and Kitty Ratcliffe, Chair of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

That agreement, which secured the votes needed to pass the convention center measure, provided that 35% of the county’s hotel and motel “surplus” tax revenue – that is, revenue that is not not already burdened by other projects – would be used to pay for the proposed North County Recreation Center.

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But after two-and-a-half years, little has been done to move the leisure center idea forward – and Erby’s successor, council chair Rita Days, said she wanted an explanation before allowing a vote of the board on the issuance of $105 million in special bonds. obligations for the convention center. This amount represents the county’s share of the $210 million expansion; the city of Saint-Louis has already advanced with its half.

At a council committee hearing last week, county budget manager Paul Kreidler said that at the time of the deal, hotel and motel taxes in the county were bringing in about $13 millions of dollars. After meeting commitments to other projects, 35% of the remaining balance would have been approximately $1.3 million.

Then the pandemic hit — and hotel and motel tax revenues plummeted to $5.4 million in 2020, he said. And while that revenue is expected to hit $7 million this year, there won’t be any “surplus” money until the total tops at least $11 million a year, Kreidler said.

“In 2020 we didn’t produce any surplus – and I don’t think we will produce any surplus for the next three to four years,” he said. “It will be some time before we get back to an annual surplus of $1.3 million – and that’s really what we would need to pay down debt if the hotel tax were to be used to support these obligations.”

Meanwhile, the only current proposal for a new recreation center, from a CVC-funded study, is an indoor track facility capable of hosting NCAA events as well as youth sports. The 37-page study did not project a total cost for the project, but cited similar facilities elsewhere in the country as examples, from the $2.5 million JDL Fast Track in North Carolina to a $68 million sports center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

‘There is no money’

Some council members said they saw no way to build such a recreation center unless they amended the 2019 deal to set aside more money or identify other revenue streams.

“I think we heard it pretty clearly: there’s no money to do it now,” said Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District.

He suggested the board modify the deal to set aside a specific dollar amount from tax revenue from hotels and motels, or possibly use some of the $193 million in federal U.S. bailout funds the county has. received.

“We all agree that the project needs to be built,” Fitch said. “It’s a question of: how do we pay?”

Councilor Mark Harder, R-7th District, said while the recreation center is intended to boost tourism in the area, funding must come from hotel-motel tax revenues so that “tourism pays for itself.” “.

But increasing the percentage from 35% to 50% will not help “if there are no excess funds”, he said, adding “there is no money to commit unless the council decides to opt for another financing mechanism”.

“I think it will be very difficult for bondholders to approve this type of investment without a steady flow of money,” Harder said.

Fitch, Harder, and Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, all voted against the 2019 bill, opposing the last-minute addition of the North County Recreation Center. Harder complained at the time that he was “surprised” by the addition of a project “that we don’t have a plan for, we don’t have land (and) we don’t know what will be the real goal”. But the Democrats held the majority and all four at the time – Erby, Lisa Clancy, Rochelle Walton Gray and Sam Page – voted for the bill.

Days, in whose district the new recreation facility was to be built, did not respond to a request for comment.

Erby, who died in July after battling cancer, got the CVC’s 2019 deal in exchange for her vote. But the language she added to the convention center bill only created a funding mechanism for a proposed recreation center. It did not describe the facility or identify a site.

Days, elected to the council in August 2019, said she understood the CVC had promised Erby that he would help design and build the project.

Ratcliffe, the chairman of the CVC, claimed last month that it was a misunderstanding and that the commission had already gone beyond its agreement with Erby by funding the study which explored the idea of ​​the track. interior. She also warned that further delays in America’s Center expansion would cost the region millions of dollars in congressional dollars.

In response, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, who was part of the 2019 talks, accused Ratcliffe of flip-flopping.

Pruitt told council last week that he and Erby “have been assured by the parties that there will be a working relationship between the CVC and Councilor Erby to see this project through.”

Pruitt said everything “came to a standstill” for two years to allow the CVC to complete its study. He said he hadn’t seen the CVC’s recommendation for an indoor track facility that was issued last month.

A separate problem?

Winston Calvert, chief strategy officer for County Executive Sam Page, told the board that Page saw “both sides” — referring to Days and the CVC — as having “strengths.” But he also urged the council to release the county’s bond for America’s Center, saying a North County facility didn’t have to break ground before releasing the money.

Harder asked Calvert if Page would help the board “come up with new language” to clarify the 2019 deal.

Page, Calvert said, would be “open to having that conversation.”






The St. Louis County Council Committee of the Whole heard from Nancy Cross, executive director of operations for the City of St. Louis (pictured top left), and other witnesses about funding for the American’s Center on Thursday, October 28, 2021. (screenshot)


The council was also urged by a city official to release the bonds. Nancy Cross, executive director of operations, said the city is supporting a recreation center in North County, but developing plans for the facility is a separate matter “from whether or not you continue to move forward on the convention center.

Asked about the hearing, Trakas said in a statement that the 2019 order “needs to be amended.”

“I believe a full review of the HVAC plan for the convention center is warranted and the order as it relates to the North County facility should be amended,” Trakas said.

Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-2nd District, said in a statement that the “recreation facility as part of a larger investment program ‘in northern St. Louis County’ is something to understand “. But she said that shouldn’t come at the expense of the convention center project, which she said the county was obligated to do.

Clancy, D-5th District, and Shalonda Webb, D-4th District, did not respond to requests for comment.

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