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Track and field development pitched to resolve conflict over convention center's expansion

Explore St. Louis has pitched the idea of a north county facility that could host NCAA championship events, but also youth track and other sports
Credit: SLBJ
A rendering of the America's Center western expansion project.

ST. LOUIS — Tourism officials are recommending St. Louis County develop a track and field facility to the north, in part to help end a stalemate over funding an expansion of the downtown convention center, but questions are being raised about the idea's financial viability.

Records obtained by the Business Journal show that a consultant hired by Explore St. Louis has pitched to the St. Louis County Council the idea of a North County facility that could host NCAA championship events, but also youth track and other sports, including basketball, volleyball and those involving mats.

The exploration of such a development comes because in 2019, the council, in a preliminary move, agreed to fund half of a $210 million expansion of the America's Center Convention Complex downtown, but only if 35% of excess funds from the government's hotel-motel taxes were used for a North County recreation center. The taxes would primarily be used for the convention expansion. The city of St. Louis is funding the other half of the project, which would expand the facility west, create a larger ballroom and more functional exhibit space, as well as add 26 loading docks that will allow it to cater to a wider array of conventions.

But in August, the council's chair, Rita Days, said she was withholding support for a bill authorizing the county to issue its share of bonds because she hadn't seen progress on the recreation center project. Meanwhile, the St. Louis NAACP said it will again call attention to a "travel advisory" for Missouri, citing the same concern, while Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis, the tourism agency that operates America's Center, has warned that further project delays will cost the regional economy because of the loss of major conventions.

In a letter Tuesday, Ratcliffe blamed the pandemic for delays on studying the rec center, but said "we recently presented an idea for a facility that meets defined needs," a reference to the track and field development. 

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