Why Is St. Louis Using Tax Money to Subsidize Parking Lots and Bars?

St. Louis’ subsidized “Ballpark Village” looks suspiciously like a giant parking lot. But the Cardinals say it’s only until the market proves it can sustain the original mixed-use plan. Image: Riverfront Times

Tax increment financing is a pretty neat tool cities can use to finance quality-of-life amenities, like the Beltline in Atlanta, or the streetcar in Kansas City, by capturing the taxes from the property value increases of the investments.

“Ballpark Village” was originally envisioned as a mixed-use neighborhood. Image: Riverfront Times. Click to enlarge.

On the other hand, there’s a new model being pioneered by St. Louis, where you use special financing to subsidize the construction of parking lots and bars. That’s the plan for “Ballpark Village,” a once-soaring vision for a mixed-use neighborhood by the Cardinals’ stadium in downtown St. Louis. But then came the housing crisis, and following revision after revision, that plan has morphed into little more than a giant field of asphalt. The plan now includes 400 parking spaces and a single building that will house the “Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum” and a restaurant.

But St. Louis is still on the hook for special tax revenues to be delivered right back to developers. Alderman Scott Ogilvie told the Riverfront Times the city is getting hosed.

“Every time they sell a beer at these bars, they are keeping most of that tax revenue to pay for the construction,” he said. “You have to be smart about what you’re subsidizing.”

“It’s not like we’re desperate for places to drink in St. Louis so we have to subsidize it and create more,” said Ogilvie. “What improves downtown, what makes downtown great is more housing options and quality jobs. The housing component has been completely stripped out.”

Ron Watermon, a spokesman for the St. Louis Cardinals — the land owner — defended the plans, saying the parking-heavy proposal was just a holding strategy till they could pursue the grander vision for a “really vibrant neighborhood.” He added that it would need to be “market driven.” The Cardinals are contracting with private developer Cordish Companies on the project.

“It’s always good to have additional parking downtown,” he said.

Unless, of course, you actually live downtown and have to look at it. Readers at Next STL joked the development should be called “CarPark Village.”

  • Ben Alexander

    Classic development strategy. Show the public and decisionmakers an elaborate, impressive complex of walkable businesses, get your TIF money, then chip away at it until you’re just building a big parking lot to act as a placeholder on the land until somebody will give them even more money. Cordish is a master of extorting cities.

  • Ted King

    The developer gets a grade of “F” on their websites for excessive Flash content and smoke blowing. The Wikipedia page (…/St._Louis_Ballpark_Village) has a bunch of low-grade links. The city’s correct link (see below) is stale (circa 2009).

    http://stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/sldc/developemnt-activity.cfm?DevProjectID=431

    The only somewhat useful page belongs to the Cardinals. Their page (see below) at least explains that there will be a pocket park / greensward tucked in to the left of the alcoholic watering hole.

    http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/stl/ballpark/ballpark_village.jsp

    [rhetorical]What’s with some of these developers ? Was their formula spiked with asphalt when they were babies ?[/rhetorical]

    P.S. There’s a Streetsblog prefix link glitch in the image captions.

  • Evan Jenkins

    Government-subsidized drunk driving: American as apple pie!

  • Alex Knight

    “It’s always good to have additional parking downtown.”

    That sound you heard was that of every last Streetsblog reader’s head simultaneously exploding as they read that dumbfounding statement straight outta’ 1955.

  • Anonymous

    TIF is always a bad idea, for three reasons: 1, it lets the city give tax breaks to politically connected developers; 2, it lets uneconomic plans move forward if they conform to the urban planning whims of the day; 3, the new development is going to use more city services and TIF results in underfunding of those services.

    If we were talking about a Wal-Mart in the ‘burbs, people would rightly be complaining that Wal-Mart doesn’t need public subsidies. Well, neither do developers of big projects in the city.

  • Bolwerk

    TIF is a perfectly legitimate tool that can be used for good or evil, just like any other financing tool. (1) and (2) are real but obviously avoidable problems. (3) can be a problem if there is a bad plan, but the opposite could be true too: the project could make better use of existing infrastructure and result in further savings. Some of the incremental increase in revenue may need to go to bonds, but some may be surplus.

    Also, the bonds do eventually get paid off, while the benefits of things like rail, sewers, and water mains continue (figuratively) paying dividends for decades or centuries.

  • tbatts666

    I just found this. I live about a mile from this parking crater.

    Never knew it was subsidized. What fucking dolts.

  • tbatts666

    IMO TIFs should have to be voter approved.

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