New stadium plan could keep Rams in St. Louis — if that’s what the NFL wants

An artist's rendering of a proposed NFL stadium for the St. Louis riverfront.

BILL GREENBLATT/UPI

ST. LOUIS — A publicly owned 64,000-seat stadium on the riverfront appears to be the best and possibly final effort to keep the Rams from moving to Los Angeles.

Former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock — half of a task force appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon that includes local attorney Bob Blitz — revealed the plans Friday afternoon for a facility he hopes will persuade owner Stan Kroenke to keep the franchise in St. Louis. Both sides still have plenty of questions to answer, but ultimately whether the city’s efforts succeed will likely come down to what the NFL wants.

Artist renderings presented a pretty picture of a stadium and surrounding area estimated to cost somewhere between $860 million and $985 million, a range that reflects just how early it is in the process. Support from local and state officials provides a solid foundation, but Peacock’s answers to financial questions made it clear there’s still plenty of work to be done.

"There’s a lot of ways, I’m sure, to source the public financing," Peacock said. "Whatever means are required to achieve that, the people in legislative staff and political area, they’re assessing that. But I’ve been given confidence there are ways to source this public financing and do it in such a way that it is either the same or less burden on the community than we have today."

Assuming that’s true, it’s about the best St. Louis residents and Rams fans could have hoped for short of a generous billionaire coming out of the woodwork. Whether or not you believe Peacock’s claims of revitalizing the surrounding area and estimates of up to $20 million in extra revenue from freeing up the Edward Jones Dome for events year-round, it’s clear this stadium would be a huge benefit to an area in desperate need of redevelopment.

The proposal offers a lot to like even for non-football fans, particularly if dreams of a Major League Soccer franchise come to fruition. Nonetheless, based on what we know, it’s tough to imagine the plan will do much to get Kroenke re-engaged with St. Louis.

Fans would return to the elements in the proposed new stadium.

Earler this week, a joint venture that includes the reclusive billionaire unveiled a plan to build a privately owned and financed 80,000-seat stadium in the LA area. It’s yet another sign he seems dead set on moving back to the city the Rams left in 1995, and no matter how sweet a deal St. Louis gets for its public financing or how much it gives to the franchise, revenues and benefits for Kroenke here will never touch what he could get out West.

"Our urgency is not driven by Los Angeles or anywhere else for that matter," said Peacock, who has been working on the project for about a year. "Our urgency is driven by the fact that we build a stadium for our fans and our community to be a community and public asset, and there’s an imperative as we’ve started the Arch grounds as the impetus to continue this great work and position our city for where it deserves to be in people’s minds for 2020."

Peacock said meeting that target date for completion would make it "lightning-speed" compared with other NFL cities such as Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco, or San Diego, which still hasn’t been able to move out of its 48-year-old stadium. But at this point, it’s the kind of ambition St. Louis needs to make an impression on the NFL.

Early conversations indicate the league is willing to listen, and Peacock said the first step for the task force was to go to New York and present its proposal, though he has yet to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell. That’s more than St. Louis can expect from Kroenke, though of course Peacock said he’ll be open to conversations.

In the end, unless Kroenke goes rogue, the city just needs to persuade one of those two entities. It’s clear which option would be easier.

Peacock made sure to repeatedly emphasize the NFL’s bylaws, which require teams to bargain in good faith and exhaust all options with their current city before a move is considered. As he noted, teams are not allowed to move solely for the opportunity to make more money.

MORE ON THE STADIUM PLAN

"The Rams are our team and we believe with this kind of plan the Rams will continue to be our team," Peacock said. "I don’t think anyone ever bought tickets to go to a game … because of the owner. They go to games to have fun. They go to games to see a winner, which we need to see in this town."

Persuading Kroenke to stay doesn’t appear to be high on the priority list, nor should it be, given his history. Clearly, the league would also stand to benefit in a number of ways from a franchise finally moving back into one of the nation’s top markets, but some other factors are working in St. Louis’ favor.

Kroenke isn’t exactly well-liked among league officials and his fellow owners, who would have to approve the move by a three-fourths vote. If St. Louis can provide a viable new stadium that wins approval from the NFL, it might prefer to have teams from San Diego and Oakland move out of old stadiums instead.

Of course, one of those two teams could always move to St. Louis if Kroenke leaves with the Rams, but Peacock refused to go into detail on such a possibility. It feels like a long shot for a city that has already lost an NFL franchise once, and it certainly wouldn’t have the same potential for public support.

The league has announced it won’t be allowing any teams to move before 2016, so there’s still plenty of time for the stadium proposal to solidify as details fall into place. An early emphasis on transparency offers an encouraging sign going forward, and the group appears to have a workable plan in place.

None of that will really matter, though, if the NFL decides it needs to act on its best chance to get back to the lucrative LA market since the Rams and Raiders both left in 1995. Speculation regarding a return has been prevalent for nearly that long, often giving franchises leverage over their home cities.

Even the most well connected and resourceful task force doesn’t stand much of a chance of preventing a multibillion-dollar industry from getting what it wants, even if it has to bend its own rules.

Give credit to St. Louis officials for all the work they’ve done to get to this point. It’s just not clear if anything will be good enough.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.