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Gov. Holden still wont endorse MU Arena, Cardinals Stadium Proposals

April 24, 2001
By: Ben Paynter
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Gov. Bob Holden said Tuesday the $35 million MU arena proposal, facing final approval in the House today, may be stuck in legislative limbo until bipartisan concerns about its economic impact are resolved.

He said the $370 million St. Louis Cardinals stadium proposal would face similar questions about financial feasibility.

"What we have to do is have the right plan for Missouri taxpayers," Holden said. "We've got to look at them as individual projects and see which one of them makes the most financial sense--if either one of them."

The governor said the MU arena bond proposal, part of a $75 million deal for funding the new arena, needs to be analyzed carefully for its statewide economic benefit.

"That one needs to be looked at to see in a larger connotation to see what it does for Columbia and the mid-Missouri area," Holden said.

The MU arena proposal has already been backed by an anonymous donor, who earmarked $25 million for construction costs. UM lobbyist Jim Snider said the donor is expected to issue a letter, appropriating the $25 million to MU, as early as this morning. The letter would contain the donor's bank but not the donor's identity, Snider said.

With the donor's identity a mystery, some legislators worry lobbyists may be using the bill as a vehicle for other interests.

But, after introducing a substitute to the arena bill Tuesday, Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he was optimistic the bill would pass.

"I feel good about it," Graham said. Graham plans to bring the bill before the House for a vote today.

The substitute proposal addressed criticism from Reps. Vicky Riback Wilson, and Tim Harlan, both Democrats from Columbia, who were concerned about imposing additional financial burdens on taxpayers in a tight budget year. The new version of the bill would defer bond appropriations until 2005.

Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico, also believed the bill would pass. Farnen heads the committee that allowed the bill to be released for House debate.

Not all mid-Missouri lawmakers support the MU arena.

"I think this is a great opportunity but the timing is not good," Harlan said. "By this vote, we are saying the arena is more important than a lot of other things." Harlan said health care and education should take precedence over the proposed entertainment venue.

Rep. Ken Legan, R-Halfway, agreed with Harlan.

"We're sending the wrong message when we vote for a stadium in a tight budget year," Legan said.

The current budget shortfall is expected to range between $50 and $100 million, according to Legan. Holden said "a softening in the economy, and major cuts in our core budget" made it difficult him to commit to any construction projects.

He said he is also concerned with resolving education, transportation and other economic development issues before the end of the session May 18.

"Many things are a priority," Holden said. "I'm the governor of the state of Missouri and I've got to protect the taxpayers' money."

The arena would provide 2,600 more seats than are currently available in the Hearnes center. It would also give a better venue to attract musicians to Columbia and expand practice space for MU athletes.

Graham said he expects the arena proposal to gain approval despite the governor's indecision. He said the governor's statements would hold no bearing on his commitment to the current proposal.

In 1996, Bill and Nancy Laurie, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, offered $10 million toward financing a new basketball arena, but the proposal never made it to the Statehouse, Graham said.

Holden added that the end of the session would not be an "automatic line" ending discussion on either construction proposal, if either issue fails to pass this legislative session.