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Committee votes to advance St. Louis stadium funding bill

The funding plan for a proposed $200 million soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis has hit a snag.

Just when it seemed that plans for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis were dead, the proposal has new life.

The city Ways and Means Committee initially voted 6-2 Thursday against advancing a bill to ask voters to approve $60 million in funding for the stadium.

But the committee later reconvened and by a 5-4 vote approved a revised proposal. A key revision imposes an amusement tax on ticket sales that could generate up to $12 million for the city over 30 years.

The full Board of Aldermen is expected to vote next week whether to place the measure on the April ballot. Because the deadline for April 4 ballot issues was Tuesday, a judge would also have to give the go-ahead.

The stadium is vital in the investor group SC STL's effort to attract a Major League Soccer franchise. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a new stadium is built. The league plans to award two expansion teams this fall.

"There is clearly more work ahead, but today's result brings us much closer to a ballot measure that will allow city voters the opportunity to make St. Louis a future home for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise," SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock said in a statement.

SC STL last year proposed a 22,000-seat stadium near Union Station. The project called for the investor group to be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs after the stadium is built.

But it also called for taxpayer help. Initially, the plan sought $80 million in city funding, and $40 million in state tax credits.

The plan first hit a snag in December when Missouri's then Governor-elect Eric Greitens said he would not support state funding for any stadium, calling it "welfare for millionaires."

But last week, SC STL announced a new financing plan, reached after negotiations with Greitens and his staff, that called for the state to contribute the majority of the land to be used for the 24-acre stadium site, a donation potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.

Some city aldermen said at Thursday's hearing that cash-strapped St. Louis simply can't afford to help build a soccer stadium. Alderman Samuel Moore, whose ward is among the poorest in the city, held up photos of dilapidated homes.

"This is what I live with every day," Moore said.

But the co-sponsor of the bill, Jack Coatar, said the extra tax revenue generated by the stadium and the thousands of fans who would come to games would make the project lucrative for the city in the long run.

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