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MLS stadium vote in St. Louis is lost, seemingly killing expansion bid

Stuart Hultgren and Chris Maddock
Fans react to the voting results. (AP Photo)

St. Louis, one of the first real hotbeds of American soccer, will likely not be getting a Major League Soccer team anytime soon. Probably not ever, in fact.

Although the city is one of a dozen bidding for four spots in the next two rounds of the league’s expansion in the coming decade or so – and was widely believed to be a favorite – voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to direct funds from a sales tax hike and a business tax to pay for a new stadium.

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A prospective ownership group, which had been trying to land a team for years, sought $60 million in tax revenue to help defray the cost of a stadium – down from an initial ask of $70 million, which was adjusted after negotiations with the city aldermen for their support.

But voters balked by a comfortable 53-47 margin, with 30,603 voting no to overcome 27,363 yes votes.

Both the would-be owners and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber had indicated that there was no alternative to the stadium funding plan. The allocation of a franchise by MLS – in all but the very biggest markets – has been dependent on a robust and fully-funded stadium plan.

But the proposal ran into real resistance. The biggest issue with it was that a soccer stadium, frequented primarily by suburbanites living outside the impoverished city and therefore not contributing hugely to covering its costs, would further stretch the already thinly-spread tax dollars. It didn’t seem to make sense for the city proper.

St. Louis, still reeling from the divisions broadcasted to the world in the Ferguson riots, could surely put the money – or even the tax breaks – to better use for a project that benefited its actual residents. Or so the feeling went.

This could all be a bluff, of course. The team’s prospective owners seem plenty capable of ponying up the $60 million, or raising it from elsewhere. After all, it’s just a fraction of the total cost of launching an MLS team these days – starting somewhere around $300 million between the expansion fee, the construction of a stadium, a training facility and an academy. Why not see what the taxpayer will kick in before funding the thing yourself, after all?

Yet a statement from MLS right after the final vote tallies came in seemed to imply that the league is moving on.

By speaking of the expansion process and the ownership group in the past tense – “we have believed” and “were focused” – it’s sounding like it’s game over for St. Louis. Certainly, MLS referring to the defeat as “a significant setback” suggests the city’s bid is on life support. Or already dead.

Soon, Major League Soccer will have 28 teams in 26 markets. But one of the cradles of American soccer will probably not be one of them.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.