Bill DeWitt III, President of the St. Louis Cardinals, let the city know he was “ticked off” when he heard some were criticizing his plans to squeeze taxpayers for another $16 million to expand Ballpark Village, an entertainment district next to Bush Stadium. Several commenters, myself included, were (and continue to be) skeptical of the multibillion dollar corporation’s need for yet another public handout. Remember that it wasn’t long ago that the first phase of Ballpark Village secured $49 million in subsidies.
I am surprised there aren’t more skeptics, especially given how poorly the city’s development department, the St. Louis Development Corporation, assessed the Cardinals’ incentive request (despite later endorsing it). The second phase of the Ballpark Village development scored a 24 out of a possible 40 points on the city’s incentive rating system. In other words, the request for incentives received a 60% grade. Nevertheless, the incentive is moving ahead through the approval process.
Proponents of the project might respond that the city and school district are forecasted to see increased revenues even after accounting for the incentive package, so the subsidy won’t have negative impacts like TIF and abatements have. But this objection misses the mark in two ways. First, the initial phase of Ballpark Village received TIF, so it has already negatively impacted taxing jurisdictions. Secondly, the revenues for the $16 million will be generated by a kind of special sales tax district known as a community improvement district (CID). That means ordinary folks like you and me—consumers—are going to pay extra taxes so that the city doesn’t take a financial hit . . . and the Cardinals don’t take a financial hit. But who should public policy be crafted for: the government, wealthy corporations, or the people?
As the incentive proposal moves through the legislative process, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen should weigh the costs and benefits of subsiding yet another pie-in-the-sky, “transformative” development. The research tells us these incentives don’t boost the economy. Why don’t city aldermen pay attention to their own Development Department’s ratings?