Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Alderman Threatens Lawsuit over Constitutionality of Scottrade Renovations

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Alderman Threatens Lawsuit over Constitutionality of Scottrade Renovations

Article excerpt

In January, St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green issued a stern warning as the Board of Aldermen was set to debate a proposal to issue $64 million worth of bonds to help fund renovations to Scottrade Center.

"Any proposed use of current budget revenues reduces available funding for public safety and delivery of essential city services," Green wrote in a letter warning aldermen that the bill could threaten to diminish the city's already falling credit rating.

A month later, after a contentious seven-hour meeting, the aldermen passed the bill. The St. Louis Blues announced work would begin this summer on their $138 million renovation project.

As the clock turns to June, though, the city has issued no bonds.

And now one of the aldermen who voted against the project is asking Green to stand in its way again.

On Wednesday, Alderman Cara Spencer, 20th Ward, wrote Green and asked her to research whether the bills passed to fund the Scottrade improvements violate the Missouri Constitution. In her letter, Spencer said she's consulted attorneys who believe the city's arrangement with the Blues organization, which leases Scottrade and controls its use, violates a constitutional provision that prohibits cities from granting "public money or property" to private individuals and corporations.

Spencer copied her letter to the 11 other aldermen who voted "no" on the Scottrade bills, including Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Lyda Krewson, who has since been elected mayor. The letter implies a lawsuit might be forthcoming unless Green disagrees with Spencer's analysis.

"I hope you will once again exercise your strenuous defense of the finances of the City and revisit the ordinances and the lease," Spencer wrote. "Please know that you will not stand alone in this effort. I and several of my colleagues on the Board of Aldermen as well as a very large group of private taxpayers are prepared to support you in this effort."

The Blues say the lawsuit threat caught them by surprise.

"It came as a shock," said David Richardson, an attorney with Husch Blackwell who represents the Kiel Center Partners. "We had not heard these concerns from Alderwoman Spencer or anybody else."

Richardson said he believes that Missouri case law is clear, that even if there is an "incidental" private benefit from public money, as long as the primary purpose is a public one, the money can be spent legally.

Through a spokesman, Green confirmed that the bonds have not been issued for the Scottrade project. She declined to comment on Spencer's letter. So did Krewson.

But the dispute highlights a rift in a financially struggling city that was torn wide open during the debate over the failed vote for a downtown stadium for a new Major League Soccer franchise.

As aldermen begin debating a budget that cuts city services, slashes building funds and health department funds and shorts the Affordable Housing Trust fund, Spencer says committing the city to spending about $4 million a year in general revenue on a stadium the city doesn't control is shortsighted. …

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