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St. Louis tries for MLS franchise once again, with Taylor family leading the way

ST. LOUIS – The possibility of a Major League Soccer team playing in St. Louis took a giant step forward.

A member of the would-be ownership group from last year's failed bid held a press conference Tuesday morning to announce a new proposal to bring the MLS to St. Louis. Jim Kavanaugh, co-founder and CEO of World Wide Technology, and members of the Taylor family met at Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club with Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, and other elected officials to make the announcement.

The ownership group adopted the hashtag #MLS4TheLou for the venture.

The Taylor family, which has long maintained business and philanthropic ties to the St. Louis region, is expected to be the financial muscle behind this new bid and stadium construction, estimated to be $400 million. Carolyn Kindle Betz, senior vice president and executive director of Enterprise Holdings Foundation, said women would own a majority of the team, a first for MLS.

"We are so excited to be here today to officially announce this group’s mission to bring a Major League Soccer club to the fabulous City of St. Louis,” she said.

Kavanaugh's love and appreciation for the beautiful game span several decades. He won a state championship playing for Rosary High School before going on to play soccer at St. Louis University. Kavanaugh was a member of the 1984 US Olympic Men's Soccer Team and played in the Major Indoor Soccer League with the St. Louis Steamers.

When asked about a possible location for a site, Kavanaugh said the ownership group was working with the state to have land conveyed for a stadium. He mentioned "downtown St. Louis" during his explanation. Andy Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, said the state would convey the land to the City of St. Louis, and the local government would then lease the land to the team.

Kavanaugh and the Taylors said St. Louis County would not be involved and that the team should not cost St. Louis City taxpayers any money. Mayor Krewson said there would be no TIF (tax increment financing) money involved in the process.

"This is fabulous," she said. "Of course, we know that the Taylor and Kavanaugh families have a long history of making many, many major contributions to our projects and the things that happen here in the City of St. Louis. It's terrific to be able to say this is a privately-funded endeavor."

Aldermen President Reed said the stadium would be paid for via a three percent "site-specific tax," such as tickets or concessions.

"So if you don't go to the game, you don't pay for the game," he said.

Before leaving the podium, Reed could not help but take a dig at the city's former NFL team.

"I'm so excited to see St. Louis working to do what? Bring football—real football—to the City of St. Louis," he said.

The potential owners are also homegrown who have demonstrated a deep, abiding love for the area. Native St. Louisans also means less chance of an owner like Stan Kroenke leaving the Gateway City for supposed greener pastures.

The mayor said the venue would bring the city $1.5 million in new revenue annually.

"St. Louis is a soccer town. We play it. We watch it. Now let's score a franchise," Krewson said.

Kavanaugh said a stadium could be completed and a St. Louis team could start playing soccer by 2022.

The St. Louligans, a group of local die-hard supporters, have pined for an MLS franchise for its eight-year existence.

“We’re very, very, optimistic, very happy," a Stuart Hultgren, a St. Louligans member.

Dan Courtemanche, Major League Soccer Executive Vice President of Communications, issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon following the news conference:

"We recently met with the Taylor Family and Jim Kavanaugh regarding their new vision for Major League Soccer in St. Louis and are impressed by their commitment to the MLS effort. We look forward to spending time with them during the coming months to learn more about their plan.”

Late last month, our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that an official with the Missouri Department of Economic Development met with league authorities to discuss a stadium proposal.

In April 2017, St. Louis voters rejected a proposition tied to public funding for a soccer stadium downtown. The stadium would have been built west of Union Station at the 22nd Street exit from Interstate 64.

Proposition 2 asked city voters to approve $60 million to help build the stadium. The previous ownership group, consisting of Kavanaugh, Dave Peacock, and Paul Edgerly, had offered to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, as well as $95 million toward the stadium and any additional costs tied to maintenance and operations.

MLS selected Cincinnati and Nashville as host cities for expansion franchises months later.

In the past, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has mentioned St. Louis as a possible destination for a new franchise, along with Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Diego.

The league has planned to expand to 28 teams in recent years, with Cincinnati and Nashville being the 25th and 26th clubs, respectively. Cincinnati will begin play in 2019, with expansion Miami and Nashville joining MLS in 2020.