ST. LOUIS – FOX 2 has learned the St. Louis convention center expansion project is being partially gutted amid skyrocketing cost overruns. 

The initial $210 million cost has now jumped to more than $300 million, according to multiple city officials. Construction began in May. 

Cost overruns brought on by delayed funding from St. Louis County, COVID-19-related supply chain issues, and inflation leave two options: 

  1. appropriate $100 million or more 
  2. Scale back the project 

Under an updated plan revealed Wednesday by Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, which oversees America’s Center (the convention center), it’s going to be option 2. 

“This is a very important project for our city, for our region,” Ratcliffe said to the Board of Aldermen’s tourism committee.

During an online presentation, she told the committee that the updated Washington Avenue entrance would stay, along with added exhibit space, internal loading docks, and an updated façade along Cole Street. However, a fancy outdoor plaza will be only partially completed, and a luxurious new ballroom (an important feature for professional organizations, according to Ratcliffe) will be cut from the plan. 

The committee unanimously approved spending $30 million from the NFL settlement on construction cost overruns. The money was already earmarked for the project during negotiations over how to divide more than $500 million in NFL settlement funds among St. Louis City, the County, and the RSA (domed stadium authority). Under the negotiated terms, the $30 million goes to the RSA if the City of St. Louis fails to appropriate it to the convention center. 

“We have a lot of events in 2024 that need this space,” Ratcliffe said. “(The $30 million) is not enough to fill the gap completely, but it is enough to do a lot of what we need to do.”

For instance, an upscale west side entrance next to the outdoor plaza will get finished, but for now, the plaza will be greenspace without amenities like sidewalks, seating, and a planned pavilion.

“I think it’s scaled back more than I thought,” said Aldermen Tom Oldenburg (16th Ward), tourism committee chairman.

The addition of the NFL settlement funds now puts the cost at $240 million much less than what regional leaders expected to get for $210 million just a couple of years ago.   

Oldenburg said dipping into NFL settlement funds to make up the rest of the convention center funding gap was a non-starter. 

“Just who I’ve talked to, a lot of decision-makers around City Hall, throwing more money at convention center expansion beyond what was decided today,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of appetite for additional funds.” 

The full Board of Aldermen is expected to give final approval to the additional $30 million in funding next week.