Dream of MLS in St. Louis is alive, but it's not just about soccer

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St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz, of Enterprise Holdings, slap hands with a young soccer player Tuesday after a press conference at the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis announcing a proposal to bring a MLS expansion team to St. Louis.

The Taylor family has built the area’s biggest privately owned company, Enterprise Holdings, and a legacy just as large.

Family members have donated hundreds of millions to support Forest Park, the St. Louis Symphony, the Gateway Arch grounds renovations, various local charities and professional sports as well.

That civic commitment began many years ago through company founder Jack Taylor, who died in 2016. It continues today with the renewed initiative to build a downtown soccer stadium and land a Major League Soccer expansion team.

“My father started our business here in St. Louis 62 years ago with $25,000 in borrowed money, in partnership with the Lindburg Cadillac family,” said Andy Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings. “Our business has become a global business, based here in St. Louis. It’s a total, absolute privilege for us to be able to do some of these things. We love St. Louis and this (MLS quest) just makes sense.”

Fans in every city rely on franchise owners to attract teams and keep them competitive. St. Louis has seen good, bad and ugly ownership groups in recent decades.

Bill DeWitt Jr. assembled a model ownership group while buying the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch in 1995. DeWitt and Co. plowed through political resistance to eventually build Busch Stadium III and launch the Ballpark Village project.

After Bill Bidwill moved the football Cardinals to Phoenix following the 1987 season, St. Louis failed to attract an NFL expansion team because of conflicting ownership bids. Then native Missourian Stan Kroenke helped engineer the work-around, partnering with Georgia Frontiere to move the Rams here from Los Angeles in 1995.

Fans had high hopes for Kroenke when he succeeded Frontiere as majority owner. But he ultimately bailed on the city — insulting it vigorously on his way out — to move the team back to LA in 2016.

“Compared to all other U.S. cities,” Kroenke argued in his relocation application to the NFL, “St. Louis is struggling.”

The Blues endured an unfortunate ownership history until Tom Stillman’s group rescued the team from Dave Checketts and his cash-poor group in 2012. Andy Taylor and Jo Anne Taylor Kindle joined Stillman, World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and other investors to provide financial stability.

The Taylors increased their support this year, with Enterprise buying naming rights for the team’s downtown arena.

“When the Scottrade name went away on the Enterprise Center, it made good sense for us,” Andy Taylor said. “It was a good business deal besides being the right thing to do. Our 6,000 employees in the area, when they go to the hockey games, they can be proud their name is on it.”

Now Taylor family members are joining the persistent Kavanaugh to revive the downtown soccer stadium project and bid for a Major League Soccer expansion team. The project was dead until Andy Taylor approached Kavanaugh to discuss it.

“I didn’t know if he was serious,” Kavanaugh said. “So we met. I filled him in on what needed to be done to really make this work. We continued to talk and the more we talked, the more we collectively got excited about what this could mean for St. Louis. We connected all the dots on the investment side and felt that this was a really strong local investor group that is interested in doing great things for the city of St. Louis and soccer.”

This time around, financing for the proposed 20,000-seat, $250 million stadium will largely come from private sources. The only taxes would be site-specific, so this initiative will not require a city-wide vote like the one that failed in the city in April 2017.

There is no $60 million handout in this proposal. So Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, is on board along with St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

“The MLS opportunity really isn’t just about the sport,” Andy Taylor said. “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.”

Carolyn Kindle Betz, senior vice president of Enterprise Holdings and executive director of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, will head the potential majority ownership group. It will also include Enterprise chief operating officer Christine Taylor-Broughton and other members of the Taylor family.

Assuming this stadium project clears all political hurdles, this potential ownership group will have a compelling case to get one of the two MLS expansion teams up for grabs. The league has been interested in this market for years.

“We’re going to focus all of our efforts on showing them that St. Louis is indeed the best city for a club, and that we want the club, and we can support a club,” said Kindle Betz, a granddaughter of Jack Taylor and a niece of Andy Taylor.

So this bid is viable. The persistent Kavanaugh and the generous Taylors have thrust St. Louis back into the game. What a turn of events this was.

While other companies and other business leaders have given up on this city, the Taylors have remained steadfast with their support. St. Louis sports fans can be thankful for that.

“Carolyn is leading the third generation on this effort, five women,” Andy Taylor said. “This is a multi-generational family business. I think we’re good for another generation. We’re not going anywhere.”

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