SIKESTON - Ron Watermon, legislative director for the St. Louis Cardinals, pitched the proposed new ballpark stadium to the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce membership Thursday.
The SACC held its monthly membership luncheon at Ramada Inn in Miner.
The $646 million project can only move forward with appropriate action by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, the St. Louis County Council and the Missouri Legislature. If approved, construction would start in late 2002.
"You've probably heard quite a bit about it the last two years," he said, noting there have been many changes in the proposal.
"This proposal has incorporated taxpayer protections," Watermon said. "The taxpayers are protected, the baseball fans are protected."
Though the state is "investing" money in the project, there will be no new taxes and no state services will be denied funds, Watermon stated.
The ballpark project will be funded by new tax dollars which will be generated by the ballpark itself. The St. Louis Cardinals organization and private donors are footing two-thirds of the project's cost.
Prior to the opening, the state will benefit from tax dollars generated by the construction of the project, he said. "The state of Missouri doesn't pay a dime until 2005 when the park opens," he said.
The state will invest $7 million per year, the city of St. Louis at $4.2 million per year and St. Louis County at $2 million per year, growing 3 percent annually.
The Cardinals forecast the state of Missouri's investment over 30 years will be $210 million with $854 million expected in returns. State funding will be for construction purposes only.
The baseball team will take responsibility for all construction cost overruns, ballpark maintenance and capital improvements throughout the 35-year lease.
One of the selling points for the project is the Cardinals organization hopes to make a better ballpark.
"You will get good seats," Watermon said. "All of the seats will be better than they are in Busch Stadium."
He went on to explain that the current facility was designed for baseball and football games and for that reason the seating is not exactly ideal for baseball.
"Half of the seats are in the upper deck, what you hear called the nosebleed section," he said.
The new stadium will include more seats closer to the field while holding the same capacity (49,000) and maintaining the same field dimensions of Busch Stadium.
"The new ballpark will have twice as many bleacher seats and 15 percent more inexpensive seats than Busch Stadium," Watermon stated.
Other planned stadium improvements will be increased (ladies) restrooms, more air conditioned areas, more concessions and wider concourses.
Along with a new stadium, the project calls for a six-block complex called Ballpark Village, which will actually occupy the former Busch Stadium site.
Ticket prices will remain reasonable he said, noting it does the baseball organization no good if fans aren't able to attend the games due to high ticket prices.
As part of the agreement, there must be at least 6,000 seats sold at $12 or less and a minimum of 100,000 tickets must be given away each season to youth and charitable organizations.
Most other seats will be priced at current levels, plus inflation.
The Cardinals organization claims 6,880 permanent new jobs will be created with 3,500 jobs retained by the project. Officials boast the new ballpark and accompanying Ballpark Village will have five times the economic impact of Busch Stadium.
The Ballpark Village will include a baseball museum, office space, residential units and a world-class aquarium.
"The project is a project which pays for itself," he said.
"I just ask that you keep an open mind."
In other SACC business:
* Plans are continuing for the visit by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, thanks to Bo Ralph of Ralph Distributing.
The horses will be on display from 2-4 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Elks parking lot, 1-3 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores, 1-3 p.m. Dec. 22 at downtown Sikeston and 1-3 p.m. Dec. 23 at the South Pointe Shopping Center (parking lot by Goody's).
During their visit, the horses, wagon and equipment will be quartered at Sikeston Aviation's hangar.
* Jeff Sutton, outgoing president, received a plaque of appreciation from the Chamber; board members who completed their term of office were also honored. They included: Chris Matthews, Phil Black, Ralph Sexton and Michael Conway.
Shad Old will be the new president of the SACC. Incoming board members include: Ron Borders, John Testa, Larry Kellett, Brian Menz and Jerry Pullen.
* The Sikeston Senior High Concert Choral, under the direction of Nora Fuchs, provided entertainment at the SACC luncheon.