Just how much support is there for a new NFL stadium?

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - A vital few days are coming in the debate that could eventually decide whether a new football stadium is built in Downtown St. Louis.  A meeting between the stadium commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon and NFL owners is set for Wednesday in New York City.  The city’s Board of Aldermen will take up legislation regarding the funding of the stadium a day later.

In the midst of all the activity comes a poll taken by south St. Louis’ 15th Ward Democrats claiming enormous opposition to any city tax dollars being spent on a new stadium

“When we ran the poll, a neutrally asked poll, we found the opposition was overwhelming.  79% of St. Louisans were against public funding for a stadium,” Richard Buthod said Tuesday night.

But there are questions about the poll.  The phone survey, answered by just over 700 city voters, asked “Should city tax dollars be used to pay for a new NFL stadium?”

But critics of the poll, including many in the mayor’s office, point out the question could be interpreted as saying the city would foot the entire bill.  City officials say they would actually be paying for less than 15% of the $1 billion project.

They say the question also ignores nuance that includes the fact no stadium will be built unless there is a strong commitment from a new team both to be in St. Louis and help with the project.

“The team actually has to put up to $200 million into the stadium, the NFL has to put $200 to $250 million into the stadium and sign a 35 year lease,” Mayor Francis Slay’s Chief of Staff, Mary Ellen Ponder said.

But, when asked if that skews their poll, the 15th Ward Democrats insisted it did not.

“I don’t think it implies that at all,” Buthod said.  “I think we’re talking about whether the city should pay any of it.”

Another member of that group, Phillip Weeks, added, “We don’t believe that registered voters are that naïve that they would interpret our question as saying, are you going to be funding the entire bill of the stadium?’”

All of this comes as the stadium commission appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon prepares for a Wednesday meeting with NFL owners that could be their last chance to pitch St. Louis’ stadium plan.  The one thing they won’t have when they speak to the group is final approval from the Board of Alderman for the city’s portion of the funding.

Those discussions are set to begin Thursday.  City leaders say it’s vital for people to understand that, when talking about the cost of building a new stadium, that you also take into account the amount that would be lost if the NFL left the city.

The mayor’s office estimates a Rams home date generates about $700 thousand each week.  That’s just the direct money.  It does not include “spinoff” revenue generated by restaurants, bars, hotels, and the like.  City officials say there would be a $3.5 million annual budget shortfall without the Rams, and that money would need to come from somewhere.

“If we don’t keep the Rams, we are in a major financial hole,” Ponder said.

But convincing critics of the positives looks to be quite a challenge.  People like Buthod insist public funding of any sort is a bad idea.

“City investment in a stadium is a bad, bad deal for the city and a great deal for the private owner.”