St. Louis Rams to Submit Own Proposal to Upgrade Stadium Following Rejected Plan

March 2, 2012

NFL’s St. Louis Rams have rejected the initial proposal to upgrade their stadium, Edward Jones Dome and will instead submit their own improvement plan, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) said Thursday.

The CVC on Feb. 1 announced details of a plan calling for $124 million in improvements to the dome in an effort to keep the Rams in St. Louis. The team can break its lease after the 2014 season and potentially move to another city if the dome is not deemed to be among the top tier of NFL stadiums. The Rams have also agreed to play international matches in London in a three-year deal which has displeased the CVC as well.

The CVC said the Rams will submit their own plan no later than May 1.

“We look forward to receiving it,” the CVC said in a brief statement. CVC spokeswoman Donna Andrews declined further comment.

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said the rejection was not unexpected at the early stages of the negotiations.

“It’s part of the dance,” he said.

The CVC plan included a massive scoreboard, new club seats and other amenities. But it also called for the Rams to pay for 52 percent of the cost.

There is growing concern among fans that St. Louis could lose an NFL team for the second time in a quarter of a century. The football Cardinals left for Arizona after the 1987 in large part because of stadium issues _ owner Bill Bidwill wanted a stadium of his own rather than having to share one with baseball’s Cardinals.

The Rams relocated to St. Louis from Los Angeles prior to the 1994 season, and the dome _ built with taxpayer funds and operated by the CVC _ opened that year. Though just 18 years old, it lacks some of the amenities of newer NFL stadiums.

The Rams have a 30-year lease to play at the dome, but the agreement requires that it be among the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums based on various criteria. If not, the team is allowed to break the lease and in theory could leave at a time when Los Angeles is openly courting NFL teams. Rams owner Stan Kroenke owns an estate in Malibu, Calif., and is among the bidders for baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers. He has been non-committal about the future of the Rams in St. Louis.

Even if agreement is reached with the Rams, voters will have to approve any taxpayer money spent on improvements, officials with St. Louis city and county said. Based on the CVC plan, the taxpayer bill would have been about $60 million.

If the Rams and the CVC fail to reach agreement by June 15, arbitration would begin, and that process could last through the end of the year.

The dome was built largely with $256 million in revenue bonds, a debt that is being paid back with $24 million annually in tax money _ $12 million from the state of Missouri and $6 million each from St. Louis city and county.

The Rams pay $500,000 each year to use the dome _ $250,000 in rent and $250,000 for reimbursement to CVC for game-day expenses. The team gets to keep box office receipts, most advertising revenue, net game-day concession proceeds, and some concession proceeds sold for non-football events. The lease also allows use of Rams Park, the practice facility in St. Louis County.

Kroenke purchased a 40 percent share of the team when Georgia Frontiere moved the Rams to St. Louis. She died in 2008, and two years later, Kroenke bought the remaining stake from her children.

There was a recent dispute with the CVC about a lease provision requiring the Rams to play all “home” games at the dome. The dispute was settled, clearing the way for the team to play New England as the “home” team at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 28.

In exchange, the Rams agreed to increase the number of football season weekends that the dome can be booked for other uses. The team will also pay temporary employees the wages they would have earned by working the game in St. Louis. The Rams also want to play games in London in 2013 and 2014. No deal has been worked out on those games.

by Ismail Uddin