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Despite setbacks, does pulse remain for St. Louis, Charlotte MLS expansion bids?

There's been no official announcement to declare St. Louis's MLS expansion bid dead, and given the league's interest in the market, it maintains a flicker of hope.

Shortly after the request for $60 million in public funding from the city of St. Louis was voted down, SC STL vice chairman Jim Kavanaugh said the vote was “likely the final stage of our journey” and that the investment group led by former Bain Capital managing director Paul Edgerley would "step back for a day or two before making an official announcement.”

It’s now been 24 days since the election, and there’s been no announcement. 

This is not to say that the St. Louis MLS effort is back up and running. When Edgerley, Kavanaugh and their colleagues said there was no 'Plan B', they meant it. They considered their options, did the math and were prepared to put up the $150 million expansion fee and around $100 million toward construction of a new stadium next to Union Station, along with other start-up costs. The $60 million in public money they were seeking would come from a tax on ticket sales and city businesses purchasing out-of-state goods.

When the voters said ‘no’ by a margin of 53% to 47%, SC STL’s only proposal was scuttled. There’s no alternative stadium site or contingency, and no source of additional funding. The plan made sense for Edgerley and Co. only with that level of outlay. Adding more investors and altering the individual stakes as they’d been defined also would’ve disrupted the investment model.

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MLS almost certainly wouldn’t consider a stadium in suburban St. Louis, where such a project likely would get more support. But it still desperately wants to be in the market and was eager to bring Edgerley aboard. St. Louis was the clear expansion front-runner. So does the league’s interest, plus the lack of an official exit from SC STL, mean there’s still a pulse? 

It does, sort of. There is no new proposal in place at the moment. But if something were to surface, SC STL would listen. They haven’t conceded entirely. And although it’s really tough to imagine MLS cutting the expansion fee, it almost surely would give St. Louis the leeway to get something done if an opportunity arises.

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Charlotte’s bid, which his led by Charlotte Motor Speedway president and CEO Marcus Smith, also hit a political hurdle. Smith intended to pay the expansion fee and half the cost of a $175 million stadium that would be leased back from Mecklenburg County. The county and city of Charlotte would combine to kick in the other half. The county was in but in late January, the city council decided it wouldn’t even vote on the measure.

A lifeline remains, however. Smith and his colleagues have remained in touch with MLS and met with league officials in March. There’s been no public withdrawal. The city council could, at any time, reconsider its decision and vote on Smith’s request (the money would come from a fund that must be directed toward tourism or hospitality projects). In addition, several members of the city council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts are up for re-election in November. A different government might have a different perspective. So while Charlotte has been sidelined for now, it remains in play.