Dome owners fight to keep Rams in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS — The owners of the Edward Jones Dome said Tuesday they are hopeful the St. Louis Rams won’t leave after city leaders rejected $700 million in publicly funded upgrades sought by the team under a clause some officials now regret signing.
The Rams can break their 30-year lease after the 2014 season — a decade early — but have said little about their plans beyond expressing an interest to stay. That isn’t keeping stadium boosters from hoping for the best.
“Everything is in play,” said attorney James Shrewsbury, chairman of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which owns the downtown dome. “There’s nothing off the table.”
The lease requires that the dome, which opened when the Rams arrived from southern California in 1995, remain among the top quarter of the 32 NFL stadiums. It was built with money from city, St. Louis County and Missouri taxpayers.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which manages the dome, last year offered a $124 million improvement plan that included a bigger scoreboard and better club seating, with the Rams paying slightly more half those costs.
The team countered with a far more ambitious proposal that called for a new roof with a sliding panel and a bevy of improvements that would keep the city convention center in the dome closed for three years. The team didn’t put a price tag on its request, but city officials estimated the upgrades would cost $700 million.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has taken over negotiations with Rams owner Stan Kroenke after arbitration between the team, the commission and the stadium authority failed.
Visitors commission chairman Andrew Leonard said he’s been assured by Nixon that keeping the Rams in St. Louis is a top priority. The city has already lost one NFL franchise — the football Cardinals moved to Arizona after the 1987 season when owner Bill Bidwill was unable to get a stadium of his own rather than share Busch Stadium with the baseball Cardinals.
“The governor told me he was going to (keep the Rams in St. Louis),” Leonard said Tuesday during a quarterly meeting of the sports authority’s governing board. “I took him at his word.”
Leonard served on that very board two decades ago, helping to craft the lease that could lead to the Rams’ departure. He wasn’t circumspect about its long-term value.
“That was the best deal we could get,” he told the board. “We did what we could…It’s the price we paid for getting the Rams.”
A Rams spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Rams opposed the public release of their stadium proposal, but Missouri’s attorney general released the plan under the state’s public records laws. Nixon’s office also did not respond to an interview request.
The Rams are reportedly considering several stadium locations in St. Louis County, where the team’s practice facility and headquarters are located.