Positive report on convention center expansion should not prompt St. Louis County Council to act | Politics

CLAYTON — The downtown St. Louis Convention Center expansion — a $210 million project that’s already underway — has received strong approval in a new report from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. The results, however, are unlikely to change opinions on St. Louis County Council, which has delayed action for months on a $105 million bond issue to pay for the county’s share in the expansion.

Sent to council members and Sam Page County Executive Administration on Thursday, the report says the convention center expansion “will build on the economic momentum already underway in the St. Louis,” mentioning nearby projects such as the Major League Soccer Stadium, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Headquarters and the redesign of the Gateway Arch grounds.

“The SLEDP team believes that the CVC (Convention and Visitors Commission) project will compete favorably with other convention centers across the country and result in economic development benefits for St. Louis County and the entire St. . Louis,” the agency concludes.

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The report was written at the request of St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas, a Republican from southern St. Louis County who criticized the county’s involvement in funding the downtown convention center , known as America’s Center.

CVC President Kitty Ratcliffe said this week that after the report was delivered to the board “there is absolutely no reason for a delay beyond that”.

The stalemate over the bonds is the result of frustration with council chairwoman Rita Heard Days, a Democrat from North St. Louis County, who said the region’s tourism agency reneged on a 2019 deal. to build a recreation center in northern St. Louis County. Ratcliffe said the HVAC deal was only to help fund the facility, not design and build it.

Under the agreement with Days’ predecessor on the council, the late Hazel Erby, the money for the new leisure center is supposed to come from a percentage of excess or unpaid hotel taxes. But county budget officials have warned there will be no excess hotel tax revenue for at least three years due to the pandemic, which has reduced hotel revenue and tax revenue starting in 2020.

The report was largely produced by Partnership staff, who interviewed a consultant and local hotel business leaders. They also looked at how much other cities of a similar size have spent on convention centers in recent years, ranging from more than $600 million in Nashville to $120 million in Charlotte. The convention center, he notes, is creating a “compression” of hotel rooms by filling nearby rooms and driving demand across the region.

The report quotes hospitality consultant Johnson Consulting: “Inaction will have serious consequences. The venue will continue to decline relative to its peers. If the facility is not upgraded and expanded, business will continue to decline. »

St. Louis leaders are eager to move forward, and a coordinating committee of city and county officials last month approved the first half of the project to be put out to competition, hoping that the county would soon approve its obligations for the second half. The city has already approved its half of the bonds at the end of 2020.

The work of the Partnership, which led the review, focuses on St. Louis County, although the mayor of St. Louis chooses four of its 15 council members.

The report clearly puts the Partnership behind the convention center project, which has been in the works for more than four years and secured a commitment from St. Louis County for half the cost in 2019.

But Trakas expressed skepticism on Friday.

“I have some concerns and some issues with it,” Trakas said on Friday, adding that his review was only cursory and he hopes to read it in detail over the weekend.

He noted that his resolution called on the Partnership to seek outside experts willing to lend their expertise.

“The fact that they made no attempt to do so is beyond disappointing and calls into question the objectivity of the report,” Trakas said.

Days said she hadn’t seen the report, but had no doubts about the positive economic impact of the convention center — her concern was to make sure the recreation center was funded.

Days said she was exploring whether the cost of that facility could be added to the county’s convention center bond issue. That would likely mean further delays.

“We’ve always supported the connection with the CVC center, but we’re just trying to make sure the (CVC) honors its commitment to former councilor Hazel Erby,” Days said.

“That has always been our concern.”

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