Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Hears Public Vote Arguments on St. Louis NFL Stadium Funding

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Hears Public Vote Arguments on St. Louis NFL Stadium Funding

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Attorneys argued in court Thursday that the Edward Jones Dome authority could build its replacement stadium nearly anywhere in Fenton, for example, 20 miles away and still call it "adjacent" to the downtown Dome.

The public board that runs the Dome gets to draw the boundaries of the stadium complex, attorneys said.

The argument one piece of a 3-hour hearing is a central point in the fight to build a new football stadium here.

The Dome authority filed suit against the city in April, challenging a 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote before spending tax money on a new stadium.

On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley heard opening statements and closing arguments in the case. He drilled Dome attorneys on the use of the city's hotel-motel tax to pay down the Jones Dome debt. He quizzed City Counselor Winston Calvert on the "vagueness" of the public vote ordinance.

And, while Frawley didn't rule on any of the issues in front of him, he told attorneys representing a group of citizens, more than once, they couldn't intervene in the case simply because they're city taxpayers.

Attorneys said after the hearing that they didn't know when to expect a ruling, though several said they expected it to come quickly.

Proponents of a new stadium hope it does. Gov. Jay Nixon's two- man stadium task force is relying on the city to pay for some of the bonds needed to build the proposed $985 million open-air, riverfront arena. If Frawley rules that city residents must vote before that money can be spent, the city and task force will have to scramble to get the measure on the ballot.

And if residents vote it down, most expect the National Football League to greenlight St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke's move to Los Angeles.

Frawley didn't express his opinions at Thursday's hearing. But his lines of questioning made some of his interests clear.

He dug into the funding sources for the existing Jones Dome. Bob Blitz, Dome attorney and a member of Nixon's task force, said the city's portion of stadium funding is covered by a hotel-motel tax. City residents, he said, already voted on the issue when they approved that tax.

The city's public vote ordinance, he argued, contradicts state law and the city's own charter.

And state law, he said, trumps city law. "Stadium financing is a matter of statewide impact and concern," Blitz told the court.

Blitz said he might have to present the riverfront stadium plan to NFL owners as early as August. How will the NFL know the plan is reliable, he asked, if the ordinance says a public vote is required but state law and the city's charter gives legislative authority to the Board of Aldermen?

This uncertainty, Blitz said, will do continuing damage to the stadium effort until the court rules.

Calvert, the city counselor, countered quickly that the city's ordinance does not conflict with state law. …

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