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Taylor-Made: The Bid For a St. Louis MLS Franchise Is Revived

Tuesday’s news was stunning, exciting and reassuring. Not only was the effort to land an MLS expansion franchise back on and fully revived, the mission would be led by The Taylors — the wealthiest, most influential and civic-minded family in St. Louis.

The Taylors truly love this city. They’ve served the public for decades, spending close to $1 billion of the family fortune to fund projects and donations that have enhanced our institutions, and addressed some of our problems. Beginning with the late, great Jack Taylor, the family that owns Enterprise Holdings has held St. Louis close to its heart.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Taylor used a $25,000 loan to start a business that grew into a global presence, operating the largest rental-car fleet in the world. Mr. Taylor, thankful for his blessings, always made it a priority to share his blessings with his hometown. His abundant spirit of charity and caring is as strong as every, carried on by his family.

Carolyn Kindle Betz, Jack Taylor’s granddaughter, is the senior VP at Enterprise and executive director of the company’s charitable foundation. And she was introduced Tuesday as the leader of the group that will strive to bring an MLS franchise to a St. Louis, a city with a prominent soccer heritage.

Kindle Betz is being joined by six other female members of the Taylor family — plus her uncle Andy Taylor (Jack’s son) and Jim Kavanaugh of World Wide Technology and the STL soccer majordomo who owns the USL’s successful Saint Louis FC.

Perfect.

I just never figured that the Taylors would go all-in on a sports project of this magnitude. I know that they’ve invested in the Blues, and the backing makes it easier for team owner to Tom Stillman to maintain an elite-level player payroll. And the Taylors helped out the Blues by agreeing to a naming-rights deal that for the team’s arena, now known as Enterprise Center.

But this … this is a very big deal.

Here’s why:

1. To secure an MLS expansion team, St. Louis must have a new soccer venue and an ownership group that can pay the expansion fee. The proposed 20,000-seat soccer stadium will cost an estimated $250 million. The price for an expansion team  — at least last year — was $150 million. And the Taylors and associates have stepped forward to privately finance this ambitious undertaking. Price tag: $400 million or more.

2. If this happens, the St. Louis soccer team is asking to receive the same amusement-tax abatement  (5%) that was given to the Blues and the Cardinals. The group will seek a  property-tax break for the city agency that would own the venue site and lease it to the team. This is routine for most MLS stadium deals. And tax breaks are standard for any city that’s attempting to attract a new business that will create jobs, generate local revenue, and help redevelop a neglected area to stimulate additional growth.  The STL group also plans to levy sales taxes on items purchased at the stadium. This is how it should be. Rather than impose taxes on city residents who don’t know soccer, don’t like soccer, can’t or won’t support soccer or attend games —  well, it’s no big deal for ardent fans to do their part to make this work.

3. If this is all hashed out — and political support seems robust — no public money will be earmarked, which means no public vote is necessary.  And this is important, because misinformed sports haters would vote down a formal request for public dollars — as was the case in April 2017.

4. The formed ownership group is all local — all of the time. That’s important.

5. This project (and business) will create 500 union-labor construction jobs, and 450 permanent jobs.

6. The proposed stadium location — south of Market street, west of 20th street — fits perfectly in an booming corridor of new start-up businesses, housing and entertainment centers that’s part of an estimated and ongoing $8 billion in redevelopment. The MLS — a growth sport –is compatible with the changing demographic on the western edge of downtown. Young workers are streaming into that area, taking tech jobs, living nearby, and soccer is their sport.

“The MLS opportunity really isn’t just about the sport,” Andy Taylor told the Post-Dispatch. “It’s about redevelopment, and being part of the resurgence that is happening in St. Louis. And boy, oh boy, it’s happening, it is for real.”

7.  And last but certainly not least:  If the bid comes to fruition, the St. Louis MLS team would be majority-owned by women. And that would be historic: the first women-controlled franchise in MLS history.

“Certainly it’s very exciting,” Kindle Betz told us Wednesday morning on The Bernie Show. “It’s really funny how it came about. Because this is my mom, my aunt, my sister and my cousins. And as a family we like to look and see what we can do to continue to improve our community. So certainly when the opportunity with an MLS team came up, we were really getting excited about it. But it wasn’t really until we started to put the names down on paper that we looked around the table and realized that my uncle, Andy Taylor, was the only male in the group. And while it wasn’t the driving factor … it was certainly a really intriguing factor that kept us really excited and invested in this endeavor.”

When Kindle Betz and the group met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and other league officials two weeks ago, they were enthusiastic to learn of the STL reemergence as a candidate for a team. And Kindle Betz told us that the MLS was pleased by the prospect of having its first franchise majority-owned by women.

Garber long has wanted to get a team into St. Louis …

Only to have self-defeating St. Louis continue to bicker, stumble, fall, and fail.

The Taylors, and the Kavanaughs, can change all of that.

  • Want a privately financed soccer venue?  Check. 
  • Want a wealthy group of investors to pay the substantial expansion fee?  Check. 
  • Want local ownership?  Check.
  • Want to get all of this done without putting a burden on STL taxpayers?  Check. 

I don’t know how or why any reasonable-minded person would oppose this.

And it’s not as if the Taylors are getting into this to increase their riches. They don’t need the money. MLS franchise values are rising, but individual franchises aren’t generating much if any profits. Down the road, sure. But not now.

And again: Kindle Betz, her mom, her aunt, her sister and her cousins aren’t in this to grab money.  Are you kidding? As investments go — in the quest to accumulate more wealth — the decision to privately fund a soccer stadium and pick up the tab for the MLS expansion fee would be near the bottom of the list. This is hardly a value venture that guarantees a bountiful return on the investment.

The Taylors  are  paying  the money out in their latest effort to strengthen our area’s institutions — and to make our city more appealing. They’ve done this by giving generous donations to the St. Louis symphony, the St. Louis Art Museum, the massive Arch grounds renovation and the beautification of Forest Park. And this is just an extremely short list of Taylor generosities. And that doesn’t even include the tremendous support of charities. This family doesn’t take; this family gives.

We know that the MLS wants to add the birthplace of U.S. soccer to its league map.

We know that the Taylors have an impeccable reputation. The league must be thrilled by the prospect of adding such a prominent, prestigious family to the ranks of MLS owners.

We know that no St. Louisan — in this era — has done more for STL soccer than Jim Kavanaugh.

But we shouldn’t take this for granted and assume that this is a done deal — and the MLS will be rolling out its new expansion team in the new St. Louis soccer stadium for the 2022 season.

This is no time to ease up. No time to afford needless delays.

St. Louis faces aggressive competition from other cities: Sacramento,  Phoenix, Las Vegas, Detroit, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, San Diego and San Antonio.

And, sadly, St. Louis has a tendency to miss out on opportunities because of our incessant turf wars, petty disputes, selfish motivations and ego-driven battles that serve no purpose — unless, of course, the goal is to do more harm to the STL image and reputation.

The Taylors are offering a gift.

Accept it.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Enterprise’s Taylor Family Are Leading STL Back to Potential MLS Future