Drebes: Gloria — How the Enterprise Center renovations bill passed
On the heels of the Blues’ amazing champion season, I thought it might be worth look at HB 677. Assuming it’s signed by Gov. Mike Parson, it will bring millions of dollars of state money for improvements and upgrades to Enterprise Center. In other words, money for stadiums. That’s not a very popular concept among Republicans or Democrats. So how did it pass?
First, a little background. This was actually the fourth year that the bill was circulated in the capitol. Four years ago, Andy Blunt’s team was lead lobbyist. But this year it was Nexus Group. Nexus Group’s lobbying team includes Rodney Boyd, who was for many years the city’s lobbyist; as well as St. Louisian Kate Casas; Brian Grace of Columbia, and Kelvin Simmons, a former department director under Jay Nixon.
Term limits create a constant churn and require lobbyists to re-sell the same bill to new legislators each year. But lawmakers also can become comfortable with bills they see year after year. By the fourth year, this bill was ripening.
The original bill sponsor was Republican state representative Jean Evans. She resigned early in session to become the Missouri Republican Party executive director. The decision was made to add the Enterprise Center provisions onto a bill from Kansas City for Arrowhead Stadium upgrades. That bill sponsor, freshman Rep. Jon Patterson, readily accepted the addition. The merging of bills broadened the coalition to include delegations from the state’s two biggest urban areas.
Still the biggest problem for supporters was overcoming conservative objections about “corporate welfare.” Supporters did two things to allay conservatives: they advanced a clear message about the benefits to the state; and they made concessions.
The supporters’ message was that the facilities are net generators of tax revenue to the state. And the stadiums are publicly owned. This was an investment in those assets. Furthermore, it was about more than the sports teams. It was about protecting our ability to land concerts, trade shows, rodeos, collegiate tournaments, Olympic trials and more. Those type of events account for 60% of Enterprise Center’s programming.
Supporters also made several compromises. Among the changes was a reduction in the ask. In previous years, the bill had sought $6 million over 30 years. This was pared back to $2.5 million for 10 years, followed by $4.5 million for a second 10 years. Additionally, the state’s payments were delayed until 2022. That was helpful for legislators because that’s when payments for The Dome at America’s Center were expiring. They might not have turned “no” votes into “yeses,” but it may have prevented some senators from filibustering the bill.
The lobbying team also brought on extra help. For example, they added folks from the Flotron McIntosh firm such as David McCracken. McCracken worked to craft language that soothed Sen. Paul Wieland’s misgivings that the team could relocate and leave the state on the hook for the money. That resulted in the addition of a claw-back provision saying that “if the owners of such franchise relocate the franchise to another state during the period of the agreement … such owners shall repay to the general revenue fund the amount of funds expended by the state pursuant to such agreement.”
Finally, there was also one factor out of their control. The Blues themselves. The Blues started their comeback run in January near the start of session. And during the final crucial weeks of the legislative session, they were in the playoffs and looking sharp. Winning helps. It created goodwill in the building. And made the sales pitch easier.