ST. LOUIS — There seemed to be more questions than fanfare as the first shovels of dirt turned at the ground-breaking for the long-awaited expansion of the St. Louis convention center, known as America’s Center.
“The big elephant in the room that everyone is still thinking about is probably the whole budget issue, the cost issue,” said Tony Thompson, CEO of Kwame Building Group, which is the lead project manager.
St. Louis City and County each approved $105 million in bonds to cover the $210 million project.
Tax revenue generated by hotel taxes will be used to pay off the bonds. That revenue was used to cover bond payments for the Dome at America’s Center where the Rams used to play. Those bonds have now been paid off.
However, the only, and winning, bid for phase 1 of the project is already more than $40 million over budget. It remains to be seen whether revenue from hotel taxes will cover the entirety of the new America’s Center expansion bonds.
Also, there was not a single bid for Phase 2 of the project.
“That sends a very clear and direct signal that your project cannot be completed for what you budgeted,” said Republican St. Louis County Council Member, Ernie Trakas, of South County. “This thing has all the earmarks of another Loop Trolley.”
Aside from new awnings, the America’s Center grand entrance on Washington Avenue will look much the same.
The first big changes will be to the north and west where a parking garage has already been demolished to make way for a new 9th Street entrance and 72,000 square feet of new exhibit space plus an iconic new St. Louis façade hiding expanded loading docks along Cole Street.
Phase 2 is supposed to include a new outdoor plaza plus a new grand ballroom.
“We absolutely have to have an idea of how we’re going to pay for this in the end. Right now, there’s no plan for it,” said St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed.
“It’s imperative that we stay competitive in attracting new conventions and events. AC NEXTGEN will do just that,” St. Louis Mayor, Tishaura Jones told an excited crowd at the groundbreaking.
“The economic impact to this city would be much worse if we did not move forward with a project like this,” Thompson said.
Reed agreed America’s Center expansion was long overdue but said before you started a project you had to be sure there was enough money to finish it.
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