The controversial domed stadium and convention center project in downtown St. Louis got back on track in the Missouri legislature yesterday, boosting that city's hopes in the National Football League's expansion derby.
By a voice vote, the House budget committee in the Missouri legislature approved the funding for the project. The overall budget bill, which included the project, was then approved by an 18-7 vote by the committee.
Supporters of the project now are predicting that the project will be passed by the entire legislature.
Funding for the convention center and domed stadium project will be handled by the city and county of St. Louis and the state of Missouri.
The project suffered a setback last month when a subcommittee in the legislature voted, 9-7, not to fund the project. The city and county had earlier approved the funding.
The controversy surrounding the project also brought back memories of the city's failure from 1984 to 1987 to build a stadium for the Cardinals, which prompted the team to move to Phoenix.
There has been persistent opposition over the years in St. Louis to the various proposals to build a stadium with public funds. Elbert Walton, a St. Louis legislator, has called the current project "welfare for the rich," and a clergyman in St. Louis is fasting in protest of the project.
But supporters of the project hope the positive vote will enable it to be built despite the opposition.
Fran Murray, a minority owner of the New England Patriots who is one of the leaders of the St. Louis expansion effort, said: "We are delighted with the budget committee's positive response to the fiscal-impact study [on the benefits of the project]. We understand the entire house will vote on this matter within the next two weeks. We anticipate a positive vote and are confident there will be a full funding commitment for the stadium before league owners meet on the expansion issue."
It's uncertain when the owners will have their next meeting on the expansion issue. Their annual March meeting will be in Hawaii in two weeks, but the league hasn't announced whether expansion will be one of the topics for discussion. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the league hopes to expand by 1993, but there has been speculation it could be delayed.
If St. Louis finally gets formal approval for the funding of the new stadium, it will join Baltimore as one of the two major expansion contenders with funding in place for a new football stadium.
Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., are putting their expansion hopes on renovated existing stadiums, and Charlotte, hopes to build a stadium with private funds. San Antonio is building a domed stadium, but that city usually isn't listed among the top expansion bidders.