Any new Rams stadium could require public vote

The scuttlebutt continues over whether St. Louis will accept the Rams‘ arbitrator-approved $700 million stadium renovation plan (doubtful) or perhaps negotiate a plan to build an entirely new stadium instead (more likely), with KMOV-TV one of those doing the butt-scuttling. There not much solid to the report beyond speculation, but buried in it is an interesting quote:

Either way, if taxpayers are going to be asked to pitch in to pay for renovations or a new stadium for the Rams, city hall is promising you get to decide.

“If for some reason there are any general taxes or fees, and I can’t envision what they are, but if there are any, they’d have to go to a vote of the people,” said Jeff Rainford, St. Louis Mayor Slay’s chief of staff.

My first thought: Well, that’s nice, though “if for some reason there are any general taxes or fees” is a somewhat suspicious loophole Rainford left the city. My second thought: Wait, this isn’t a promise, it’s a legal requirement. And it should apply whether a stadium is funded via “general taxes” or any other kind of public money.

Let’s set the Wayback Machine for November 2004, when the St. Louis Cardinals had just pushed through public funding for their own new stadium, against the staunch opposition of St. Louis community activists:

A St. Louis County referendum to bar public funding of sports facilities without a voter referendum looks to be passing easily (72-28% with 65% of precincts reporting), according to the Associated Press.

Pass it did. And while it turned out to be too late to stop the Cardinals deal, it would absolutely require a new Rams stadium to be submitted to a vote, regardless of whether it used new taxes, old taxes, or strange taxes. And that could mean a much more difficult path for the Rams, since the general electorate is almost always a tougher crowd for stadium subsidy demands than a group of legislators, if only because they’re harder to lobby. (Yes, Rams fans would likely be mobilized by the threat of the team moving otherwise, but move threats tend to play even better with legislators than with the general public as well.)

If this becomes a major issue, I actually wonder if the Rams and St. Louis might end up looking to renovate the Edward Jones Dome, not because it’d be cheaper or a better idea, but because it would be easier to get approved. (Renovations aren’t covered by the 2004 referendum, only new stadiums.) Or maybe they could build a new stadium elsewhere and attach it via a mile-long piece of string to the Jones Dome, and call it an “improvement” of the old structure. You laugh now, but crazier things have happened.

10 comments on “Any new Rams stadium could require public vote

  1. Kroenke is going to want to own his own stadium and keep all the revenues, which means that the public will not approve of paying for more than a third of the face value. Honestly, he’s been using the lease situation to bargain for a new stadium all along, where he can control the parking, develop surrounding property like the Patriots have, and keep all the revenue from special events.

  2. Just a point of clarification, Neil, but didn’t the Minnesota gov’t have a similar public vote law? And didn’t they work their way around that?

    I can’t recall the precise details, but it seems to me they worked very hard to get around a law that most of them had voted to enact not all that long ago…

  3. That was Minneapolis, and they got around it by claiming it was really state money. I haven’t seen the language of the St. Louis referendum (or if I did, I’ve long since forgotten it), but I have an email in to two of the authors to get more info.

  4. Rob, why would Kroenke want to own his own stadium? Parking?

    Avg NFL parking $27 x 15,000 cars x 10 games = $4 million

    Property tax must be at least 2%. Who wants to spend $700 million for a stadium and pay $20 million in property tax to make $4 million in parking? That would not be smart. No NFL owner wants to own the stadium, Kraft only did it because all the other options fell apart.

  5. @ John – you misunderstand Kroenke’s intent here.

    Kroenke wants to control all revenue for the stadium and surrounding area; ownership of the stadium itself is a secondary nuisance. He’d much rather have somebody else go through the fuss and bother of owning the stadium while keeping for himself all the revenue.

  6. @Sierra – No, I understand exactly how the stadium game works. Rob, and others on stl boards, specifically claim Kroenke wants to own the stadium and specifically mention parking revenues. There’s no money in that.

  7. Parking was just an example of what revenues he could generate, although it doesn’t stop there of course. Naming rights, special events revenue, all of that would be his, and that doesn’t factor in the land he wants to develop (along with increasing the value of his current properties). Also remember that Kroenke owns the Pepsi Center and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver, where his Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids, and Mammoths play, so the trends point towards this as well.
    Now that there’s no way to get around a public vote (see Neil’s update) unless there’s special maneuvering, he won’t be able to pass public funding of a new stadium if they have to pay for more than a third of it. Even less than that is no guarantee.

  8. @Rob. “Naming rights, special events revenue, all of that would be his”.

    The PV of those revenues are less than the $$ Kroenke would have to come up with under your scenario. That makes no sense. Also, a new stadium wont sustain new surrounding CRE development on it’s own, especially not in STL.

    The only way this makes sense is if the taxpayers foot a much larger portion of the bill than you’ve proposed. Maybe that does happen, there are plenty of suckers out there, but that’s a far different story than what you’ve proposed.

    Pepsi Center was from the previous owner, correct? That wasn’t his development. MLS is not a big pull for public funds. Maybe Kroenke is a more benevolent owner like Kraft. Guess we will see.

  9. Re: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Rapids’ stadium)… City of Commerce owns it. KSE operates it. Was roughly 50/50 split on a about $130M cost.