Rams’ Kroenke has made his LA play, but it’s not time for St. Louis to panic — yet
Disaster is around the corner. The sky is falling. Panic is in the air.
That encapsulates the general feelings of the St. Louis football fan base when they woke up Monday morning to learn of the doom that appears certain: Rams owner Stan Kroenke has entered into an agreement with the Stockbridge Capital Group to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The stadium encompasses roughly half of a $4 billion project at Hollywood Park that will include a performance center with up to 6,000 seats and other amenities that include office space, residential units, a hotel and areas for parks and playgrounds.
Furthermore, according to Chris Meany, senior vice president of Hollywood Park Land Co., construction will begin even without a commitment from an NFL team once a ballot proposal is passed that will green-light the development.
"I’ve heard that there’s a lot of talk about a lot of sites that have been out there for a very long time, for years and years and years. I don’t see shovels in the ground on those projects," Meany said at a Monday press conference. "We’re putting our shovels in the ground and going forward. This is the location in Los Angeles that for decades was the best location for sports and entertainment."
None of this should come as a surprise. Ever since it was revealed that Kroenke already owns 60 acres adjacent to Hollywood Park, there have been loud whispers that his Kroenke Group was also involved in talks to develop the Hollywood Park site.
So the suspicions were confirmed. But numerous questions remain unanswered, especially as it relates to the Rams’ future in St. Louis. The NFL wouldn’t comment specifically on the story, only reiterating that there will be no relocation of any team — including the Chargers or Raiders — to Los Angeles this year.
It also hasn’t deterred Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon from strongly pursuing the initiative he announced Nov. 5 and where groundwork has been laid over the last 14 months. Notable in Nixon’s consistent message is that he intends to show that St. Louis merits continued membership in Club NFL — be it as home of the Rams or, should the Rams move on, another team with wandering eyes.
"St. Louis is an NFL city," Nixon said in a statement issued Monday, "and I am committed to keeping it that way. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations from Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz later this week and working with the St. Louis community to put forward a plan that’s consistent with our principles of protecting taxpayers, creating jobs, and making significant use of private investment to clean up and revitalize underutilized areas."
Peacock, a former Anheuser-Busch executive, and Blitz, a Clayton attorney, indicated in a Monday statement from their spokesperson that they remain on track to present a new stadium plan — the key to strengthening St. Louis’ bid to keep the Rams.
"The news today is another reminder of how much competition there can be for National Football League franchises and projects that include NFL stadiums, but it does not change our timeline or approach," the statement read. "It is important to remember this will be a long-term process, but one that the State of Missouri and the St. Louis region are fully pledged to seeing through. We are ready to demonstrate our commitment to keeping the NFL here, and to continue to illustrate why St. Louis has been and will always be a strong NFL market. We will present a plan to Governor Nixon this Friday as scheduled, and we expect that it will meet his criteria, thereby allowing us to share our vision with the public shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we will continue to have discussions with the NFL, as well as Rams leadership."
Ever since Nixon went public in early November, even in the advisory announcing the conference call, he has emphasized, as did Peacock and Blitz in their statement, the efforts to show that St. Louis is a worthy NFL city. Peacock has made sure to make his case to the league office, keeping Roger Goodell and Co. updated on the plan of attack.
It is important to remember that no NFL team has ever left a city when a legitimate plan for a new stadium had been proposed. It is also important to note Nixon’s stated goal "to clean up and revitalize underutilized areas."
That’s a clear reference to the proposed area north of Lumiere Place and reaching close to the Stan Musial Bridge that is expected to include mixed-use development around the stadium that Kroenke would likely be a part of. It might not be as grandiose as Los Angeles, but, hey, we are what we are.
The reality is that now is not the time to panic. Kroenke always had leverage and now could have even more with the Inglewood plan becoming very public in the same week that Nixon will see the fruits of Peacock and Blitz’s labor. All along, everyone knew the only chance we have is to present a plan that will open the eyes of those who make the decisions on relocation requests.
Admittedly, Kroenke is turning the screws on St. Louis already, making big news in Los Angeles while remaining invisible here. If he has sincere intentions of keeping the team in St. Louis, he has a funny way of showing it. But unless he plans to do as he pleases and the league office be damned, the ball isn’t entirely in his court. And soon we’ll see the strength of the city’s plan to make him play ball.
Of course, there have been those within NFL ownership who wondered whether Kroenke might "go rogue" at some point, so we can’t discount that possibility. There are those who believe he plans to move with or without league approval, knowing he holds the trump card: a solution to the league’s long-standing Los Angeles stadium problem.
Meanwhile, we can only sit back and watch the high-stakes game that Kroenke enjoys playing as he continues to collect real estate and teams. No one, it seems, can top him from having his cake and eating it, too. After all, he’s a billionaire.
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.