Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Lease deal could hold key to St. Louis Rams' future

  •  For a town with an already fragile psyche when it comes to the NFL, news that the Rams might be on the sale block left St. Louis shaken.

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  • For a town with an already fragile psyche when it comes to the NFL, news that the Rams might be on the sale block left St. Louis shaken.
    But the team’s future may come down to whether there is a willingness to spend millions upgrading the Edward Jones Dome or even build a new stadium.
    Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the Rams are being shopped for up to $900 million in the wake of the January death of longtime owner Georgia Frontiere, who moved the team from southern California to her hometown of St. Louis in 1995. Frontiere’s children, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, are now majority owners.
    The report raised concern here that for the second time in a little more than two decades, St. Louis could lose an NFL franchise. The Cardinals left for Arizona after the 1986 season. Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest market, remains without an NFL team.
    Rosenbloom released a written statement that read in part, “I can assure you we have every intention of keeping the Rams in St. Louis ...” But the statement stopped short of saying definitively the Rams will not be sold.
    St. Louis has nothing to worry about in the short term. A lease agreement requires the Rams to remain at the dome through 2015. The problem comes after that.
    To lure the Rams, civic leaders agreed to a deal requiring that the dome remains among the top quarter of all NFL stadiums. The next measuring date is 2015.
    Starting in 2012, both the Rams and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission can begin exchanging proposals on getting the dome to that elite status. If no deal is reached by 2015, the Rams have the option of ending the lease — and potentially moving.
    Getting the dome to a top-tier level will be an expensive task, and funding will be problematic, said Brian McMurtry, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority. Maintenance and repair costs go up as the building ages, eating into any money that could be set aside for future renovations.
    “There’s not going to be a pot of money,” McMurtry said Wednesday.
    The dome was built strictly with public funding. Civic leaders agreed to attach it to the downtown convention center so it could be used for large shows and conventions as well as football. The state paid 50 percent of the cost, and St. Louis city and St. Louis County each paid 25 percent. The dome’s cost: $260 million.
    New stadiums today cost three, four, five times that much. To be among the top quarter of all stadiums by 2015, the Edward Jones Dome would need to be on a level with the new $1.6 billion stadium for the Jets and Giants, the Cowboys’ new $1 billion stadium, new stadiums in Indianapolis and Arizona, among others.
    Page 2 of 2 - Many observers believe the St. Louis dome ranks closer to the bottom of NFL stadiums. It has no expansive outdoor parking lot for tailgating, lacks a retractable roof and has been criticized for its sound system, lighting and for what some perceive as a sterile atmosphere.
    Since the Yahoo story, much chatter on talk radio and blogs has focused on the need for an entirely new stadium. The dome will be 20 years old by 2015. The RCA Dome in Indianapolis wasn’t much older. The Colts move into a new stadium this year.
    Whether hundreds of millions of dollars would be available to either upgrade the dome or build a new stadium may come down to voters. A charter amendment passed earlier this decade requires voter approval for public funding for a sports facility here.
    Even the baseball Cardinals, beloved in St. Louis, couldn’t generate public support for a new ballpark. The downtown stadium that opened in 2006 was funded mostly by the team.
    Mike Jones, senior policy adviser for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, doubted there would be political support for either an expensive upgrade to the dome or a new stadium.
    “It still is a building that is used 10 times a year,” Jones said. “The real question is, does the community have both the capacity and the will to raise — you plug in the number — in 2015? And if you have that capacity and that will, is this the highest priority for that kind of expenditure of public resources?”
    Ed Rhode, a spokesman for Mayor Francis Slay, said civic and business leaders and the community will eventually have to determine how to move forward.
    “But that is still seven years away,” Rhode said. “In the meantime we have some pressing needs to address like home foreclosures and high gas prices.”
    McMurtry agreed there’s plenty of time to come up with a solution. And he points out that other NFL cities have found ways to make existing stadiums work.
    “Kansas City did a major renovation to an old stadium,” he said. “Green Bay did a major renovation. I think it’s plausible here.”
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