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Clayco CEO Bob Clark pitches an $800M convention center with federal money on horizon

"St. Louis has to stop being the world capital of missed opportunities"
Credit: SLBJ
A rendering of a downtown St. Louis convention center proposal from Clayco.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis should scrap its $210 million convention center addition in favor of a larger, $800 million plan that would see the current downtown facility and Dome demolished, Clayco CEO Bob Clark said.

Clark said he's pitched the larger plan to area officials for two and a half years, but is going public now because federal infrastructure money could be coming to St. Louis and a potential settlement with the National Football League looms over the Rams' 2016 exit to Los Angeles. And Clark thinks the state of Missouri could contribute to the more ambitious proposal, solving a funding problem that limited the current plan's scope.

Plus, he argues, the current plans are inadequate for boosting meeting business and cut off north city neighborhoods from downtown.

"St. Louis has to stop being the world capital of missed opportunities," Clark said, citing its loss of railroads to Chicago, and failed plans to build a massive airport in Illinois and merge the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The city could soon pick a general contractor for the current America's Center project, which calls for creating a larger ballroom, more “usable” exhibit hall space and 26 loading docks. It would take the facility from about 500,000 square feet to more than 650,000. But officials have also left an opening for it to change.

The city and county are to kick in $105 million each for the $210 million project. While the city has approved bonds last year to finance its share of the project, the county council is stalling on final approval. Councilwoman Rita Days has said she wants to learn more details about a North County recreational center that was included in the county's initial deal approving funding for the convention center project.

Now, Clark said he's calling on policymakers to pause the current plan and create a panel to study the situation, at least for a couple months.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement that "we are eager to move forward with a plan that brings more partners to the table who share our dedication to maximizing returns on these investments."

And a spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he's "interested in all big ideas for the convention center."

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