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Judge: St. Louis clear to use tax money toward stadium

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ST. LOUIS — Seven months ago, St. Louis task-force leaders Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz unveiled a plan for a nearly $1 billion stadium to either keep the Rams in the city or attract another NFL team.

On Monday, that goal came one step closer to reality when St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas Frawley ruled a city ordinance that required a public vote on funding for new stadiums was invalid.

The decision hinged on two issues. A lawsuit filed by the Regional Convention and Sports Authority (RSA) argued that a vote was not required because the new stadium was asking the city to pay the same $6 million a year that has been paid since the Edward Jones Dome was built in 1995. Thus, they believed, no new tax money was necessary.

Opponents also had claimed funds could be provided only for a facility adjacent to the current convention center. Much of a June hearing was spent debating the meaning of “adjacent,” and Frawley sided with the RSA, writing that Missouri courts have made decisions in the past in which “adjacent” is interpreted to mean “near or close at hand” and not having to be “touching each other.”

The site of the proposed outdoor stadium is about a half-mile from the dome.

After Judge Frawley’s decision was revealed, Peacock issued a statement that said, “My task force partner Bob Blitz deserves a great deal of credit for today’s result. Bob’s commitment to the stadium project is impressive and his work on this matter, along with other members of our legal team, was extraordinary. The court’s opinion is a victory for a bold and promising future for the NFL in St. Louis and the continued rebirth of our downtown.

“As we continue to make excellent progress on the stadium project, this is a great time for everyone in the St. Louis region to rally on behalf of something that will make a difference in our economy, national profile and quality of life for generations to come. We can make it happen.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who officially tabbed Peacock and Blitz in November, said the task force has continued to make “solid progress” and that “efforts will continue in a manner that protects taxpayers, creates jobs.”

Nixon himself faces a lawsuit from state legislators who have objected to his plan to also continue state payments of $12 million a year for the new stadium. That decision from a Cole County (Mo.) judge could be coming soon, with Frawley’s decision potentially setting a precedent.

The urgency is critical, a week before NFL owners meet in suburban Chicago to hear updates from Rams owner Stan Kroenke for a stadium he hopes to build in Inglewood, Calif., and from San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis on their combined efforts for a stadium in Carson.

The St. Louis task force will not have a presence there, although San Diego stadium proponents will speak to the league’s Los Angeles Opportunities Committee the day before the league meeting. Peacock and Blitz met with the committee in April.

No votes are expected at next Tuesday’s meeting, although owners likely will begin getting a sense of which Los Angeles project they prefer. A league meeting Oct. 6-7 in New York City will bring the end result closer to reality.


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