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St. Louis frets over impact of InBev's bid

More than the fate of Anheuser-Busch is at stake with InBev's bid for the brewer.

In St. Louis, residents fret that a takeover will mean less beer money for youth soccer, the St. Louis Children's Hospital and even the company's Clydesdale horses.

About 55,000 people signed a petition opposing InBev's hostile $46.3 billion offer for the 144-year-old maker of Budweiser and Michelob beers. On June 21, protesters rallied against a sale outside Busch Stadium, home to Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals. Mayor Francis Slay and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill object to a buyout of Anheuser-Busch, known locally as AB.

“In St. Louis, we're just selfish,” said petition organizer Ed Martin, a lawyer and former chief of staff to Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt. “AB plays an incredibly dominant role. There's not a soccer league or philanthropic organization that hasn't been able to feel the benefit.”

InBev, based in Leuven, Belgium, wants to combine its Stella Artois, Bass and more than 200 other brands with the St. Louis company's Budweiser and Bud Light, the world's best-selling beers. Anheuser-Busch rejected the $65-a-share offer on Thursday, but InBev is pressing on and seeking to put shareholder pressure on the company's board to accept an offer.

Chief Executive Officer Carlos Brito wants to make St. Louis the North American headquarters of the merged companies and won't tinker with recipes for Budweiser or other brands, said Marianne Amssoms, an InBev spokeswoman.

The prospect of financial change is worrying residents. InBev might trim costs by shutting Grant's Farm, a brewery-run, 281-acre public animal preserve that's home to Clydesdales, the iconic draft horses featured in Budweiser advertisements since the 1930s, said Martin, 38, a co-founder of SaveAB.com.

Pat Anthony, the secretary for National Baseball Hall of Famer and retired Cardinals slugger Stan Musial, said her neighbors and friends are concerned that out-of-town ownership of the brewer would hurt St. Louis..

“Oh my gosh, they're so good to all of the charities in the area,” said Anthony, who has worked for 88-year-old Musial since the early 1960s. “You can't believe how much we would lose. It's not just the horses.”

Anheuser-Busch gave about $13 million to area charities and civic groups in 2007. Brito pledged in a June 17 letter published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to keep Grant's Farm open and to retain the Clydesdales, calling them “all-important elements of the heritage of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch and the city of St. Louis.”

Anheuser-Busch traces its roots to the 1850s wave of German immigration to the U.S. Midwest. Eberhard Anheuser bought the Bavarian Brewery in 1860 and four years later hired his son-in- law, Adolphus Busch. The Budweiser brand was introduced in 1876.

St. Louis became a brewing center because limestone caverns that dot the landscape were ideal for keeping beer fresh in the era before pasteurization and refrigeration, said Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

“Most of the breweries didn't survive Prohibition, so AB was the last big one standing,” Archibald said. “All that ethos of German culture, German beer-drinking and brewing in St. Louis really focused in on AB.”

Descendants of Adolphus Busch, who took the reins at the company upon Anheuser's death in 1880, no longer control enough stock to affect the outcome of a shareholder vote. Anheuser- Busch rejected the takeover bid Thursday, saying the offer undervalues the company.

Doom-and-gloom scenarios for St. Louis's philanthropic community are overblown, said Jack Russo, an analyst at St. Louis-based Edward Jones & Co. InBev is unlikely to withdraw funding from institutions and civic groups given the local ill will that might result.

As Archibald put it: “The company's identity and St. Louis's identity are inextricably mixed.”

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