- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - With plans for an outdoor soccer stadium in St. Louis now in question, some soccer advocates are wondering why the former home of the St. Louis Rams isn’t a potential home for a Major League Soccer team.

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission president Kitty Ratcliffe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/2iR5RJs ) it is simply a matter of money: It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit the Edward Jones Dome for pro soccer.

For one thing, artificial turf is essentially a non-starter for the MLS. Installing grass would require removing the roof and rebuilding the concrete surface beneath the playing area to include drainage and irrigation systems.

“Anything is possible, but does it make financial sense to do that?” Ratcliffe said.

The investor group SC STL has proposed a $200 million downtown soccer stadium that would require St. Louis voters to approve $80 million in new taxes. The group is also seeking $40 million in state tax credits, but Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens has said repeatedly that he will not support public money for a stadium project.

The soccer stadium would be the centerpiece of an effort to lure an MLS expansion team. The league has shown strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a soccer stadium is built.

The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles a year ago, but Ratcliffe said the dome is hardly empty. Attached to the convention center, it has a 76-percent occupancy for events from Feb. 1 through July 31, including the days it’s reserved for setting up and taking down equipment, according to Visitors and Convention Commission data.

Dome occupancy is just 35 percent for the other six months of the year that were previously reserved for professional football, but Ratcliffe said that should increase annually now that the Rams are gone.

Both the dome and the America’s Center convention center are in need of improvements, though the price tag at the publicly owned facility is politically daunting: $350 million.

Last year, a consultant hired by the commission explored the idea of tearing down the dome, but Ratcliffe said it was better and cheaper for the public to improve it.

Ratcliffe said America’s Center was falling behind convention centers in competing cities in terms of new investment, expansion and improvement. If nothing changes, St. Louis will continue to lose big conventions to other cities, she said.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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