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City spends millions on convention center expansion while county balks on funding

County Executive Sam Page has said excess funding doesn't exist right now to build the rec center, but that a "task force" should study how to resolve the impasse
Credit: SLBJ
A rendering of the America's Center western expansion project.

ST. LOUIS — The city of St. Louis already has spent millions of dollars on the effort to expand the downtown convention complex, even as its planned funding partner, St. Louis County, balks on finalizing its issuance of bonds for the project.

Records provided by Mayor Tishaura Jones' administration show that the city, which in 2020 issued its bonds for the project, has awarded contracts to:

  • Fentress Architects (contract worth $13 million, $5.5 million paid to date)
  • Construction manager KWAME (contract $9 million, $1.3 million paid)
  • Environmental services firm Geotechnology (contract $341,000, $220,000 paid)
  • Z&L Wrecking Inc. ($1.5 million paid, to demolish a garage, C-9, to the west of the convention center, making way for expansion)

The records illustrate the high stakes in the ongoing dispute, since one government has already invested heavily in the development.

"I don't know what all (the city's) options are," but the situation "points to the need to have better regional coordination and a regional vision for what we're doing as a community," said St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, a supporter of the expansion project.

The county's top legislator, Councilwoman Rita Days, has said she'll refuse to move forward with bond legislation until getting clarity on the development of a North County recreation center, which she and others say was promised by Explore St. Louis, the tourism agency that operates the downtown America's Center convention facility, in 2019. But Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore, has said her agency merely agreed that 35% of excess county bond payments for expansion could go to the North County facility, which could accommodate track and field sports. Explore also paid a consultant to study what the scope of the facility should be. 

County Executive Sam Page has said excess funding doesn't exist right now to build the rec center, but that a "task force" should study how to resolve the impasse.

The city and county are to each fund half of the $210 million America's Center expansion, which envisions expanding the facility west, creating a larger ballroom and more functional exhibit space, as well as adding 26 loading docks that will allow it to cater to a wider array of conventions.

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