Civic War & Peace
More than a few recent developments have impressed upon me a concern for this city’s MLS expansion efforts. I’ll start with my introduction to Foundry Saint Louis. I first heard about them reading an article written by Alex Ihnen for NextSTL. This article laid out my concerns better than I could:
Too often in St. Louis we acquiesce to a last name, to a “civic” leader who seemingly disregards, or expresses contempt for the citizenry. Plans are made out of view of the public and then residents, or the Board of Aldermen may get a chance to rubber stamp the effort, or kill it, with nothing in between, no other options.
What if NorthSide, the Arch grounds, or the latest NFL stadium efforts had not been given over to one man? What if there were an effort at broader community engagement?
These are just two of the quotes that attach words to the anxiety I feel every time I go 3 months without a progress report. I’m well aware that progress reports are not due me in any form or fashion, but I can’t help but wonder what’s going on behind the curtain--or whether I’ll like what comes out from behind the curtain.
I went to Foundry’s stadium plan unveiling two nights ago at Urban Chestnut and talked to an absolutely lovely couple for awhile in order to get a feel for what people of the city are thinking about all of this. They brought up some great points.
“It seems like this group cares about what people want.
Why is the other group being so quiet?
Is it possible they don’t have any plans at all?”
(these are over-simplifications of our conversation, but for the sake of getting a point across, let’s stick with this reduction)
It seems like this group cares about what people want.
It seems to me that Foundry St. Louis looked at the Rams disgusting departure and thought, “we can never let this happen to our city again.” They are going about this by thinking of the people first. They’re being very transparent with their intentions, holding open forums, and literally asking for criticism. I truly think this is how I would set up an expansion group were I the head of it.
Now after I read the previously mentioned article, my immediate thought was that I loved Foundry’s thought process, but assumed they would amount to nothing. Even attending the forum last night I worried I was going to leave that building with my hopes and dreams crushed as they often are when good things get destroyed by, oh say, bureaucracy and a lack of resources.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The stadium plans were very thorough. The questions were handled smartly and professionally. It’s widely reported that the Foundry CEO Dan Cordes is in talks with three (count ‘em, THREE) billionaires as investors. They have acquired land from SLU well within city limits. The group seems to be hiring the right people for architecture, PR, and marketing (did I mention the room was packed?). There’s also word of a solid consultant with extensive MLS experience. As far as I can tell, thus far, things are on the up and up—and improving weekly.
Why is the other group being so quiet?
It seems to me that MLS2STL looked at the Rams departure and thought, “we’ll never again go public with every detail and get people’s hopes up, just to have it smashed.” Let’s look at the best thing this group has going for it: Bill DeWitt III, Jim Kavanaugh, Dave Peacock, and more. These are St. Louis sports’ heaviest hitters. They have the connections. They have the wherewithal. They know how to get things done in St. Louis. Unfortunately, that’s where the buck stops. We know absolutely nothing else. We, the people of St. Louis, have been asked to trust this group and wait.
This could be good—and this could be bad. A worry I’ve heard from many is that this group could keep everything secret and then reveal a bad plan right before a public vote—leaving us with an all-or-nothing scenario. St. Louis Communication Director, Maggie Crane, told me that if the city government had to choose between a plan that is bad for the city and gets us a soccer-specific stadium, or no plan at all, we end up with no stadium. That’s the bad—very, very bad. The good: this group could come out with a plan (unfounded rumors claim perhaps as soon as Thanksgiving and as late as December) that is so complete and perfect that we can do nothing BUT accept it and push for a vote. Much can be accomplished in absolute silence, and let’s be honest, media is noisy.
Let’s also say what we all know to be true. Stadium plans are pretty. Intentions are romantic. Conversations with billionaires are not the same as cold, hard cash. Many of us remember the first time St. Louis made its foray into MLS expansion under Jeff Cooper. Investors were promised. A stadium site was secured. I think we all know that MLS didn’t turn down expansion because they had better offers. He was either lying or his investors left him at the altar.
That being said, I hope you will take the following away as the heart and soul of this article. These two groups, whether it’s real or perceived, are being depicted as if they were in a head-to-head fight to the death--as if it’s a race to see who can raise the most money, grease the most palms, befriend the most aldermen, buy Don Garber the most steaks, correctly choose the next mayor. That being the reality is perhaps my greatest fear.
Will money, bureaucracy, and power win the day? If so, the people of St. Louis lose.
What if both sides let their pride fall away? What if both sides listened to each other? What if the two groups took the best of their plans and merged them together? Let’s stop arguing who was here first. Let’s stop pointing fingers at power grabs. Let’s not blindly choose one side. Let’s constantly test and approve both groups until we have the best-case scenario—which, again, is THE BETTERMENT OF THIS ONCE GLORIOUS CITY. -PG
I love soccer, but I love my city more.