StL stadium chief: Replace dome, or lose Rams

Thirteen years ago, the city of St. Louis lured the then-Los Angeles Rams to their city by building the TWA Dome (now the Edward Jones Dome), entirely with public money. As we wrote at the time in the first edition of Field of Schemes, the total subsidy would end up amounting to $1.07 billion over 30 years:

That amounts to a public cost of $36 million a year, while the Rams’ annual revenues are expected to leap by more than $15 million. And according to the team’s brand-new lease, if the stadium does not remain among the most lavish in football for another ten years, the Rams can then leave town for more lucrative turf – or demand further improvements.

Cut to the front page of today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

If St. Louis intends to meet its lease agreement by providing the Rams with a venue that ranks in the top 25 percent of the NFL by 2015, the city – and the taxpayers – must commit to building a state-of-the-art stadium. One in which the cost could hit 10 figures.

So says Convention and Visitors Commission Chairman Dan Dierdorf publicly, as do several other principals privately.

The NFL stadiums under construction in Indianapolis; Arlington, Texas; and East Rutherford, N.J., are “going to be the cream of the crop, and they’re going to be no more than five or six years old” by 2015, Dierdorf said. “What do you do to a 20-year-old building to make it the equal of a brand-new $1 billion stadium?”

This, in a nutshell, is why so-called “state-of-the-art” clauses in stadium deals are a nightmare for cities, and a boon to team owners. The only thing the people of St. Louis are getting in exchange for their $36 million a year (plus $30 million in renovations currently underway) is the presence of a football team for 30 years – thanks to that well-placed clause, though, they’re now facing another round of stadium blackmail when the paint is barely dry from the first one. (In case anyone failed to get the message, the Post-Dispatch noted that Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom revealed he has been “approached by several people” about selling the team and relocating it elsewhere.) In Cincinnati, the Bengals lease is even more onerous, specifying that the county must install any new technologies in use by 14 other NFL teams, up to and including “holographic replay systems.”

“I don’t think anybody could’ve imagined that the boom in stadium development would’ve happened,” Rams lawyer Bob Wallace told the P-D. Clearly somebody did on the Rams’ side, though, or else they wouldn’t have thought to insert that clause into the lease. The trick now will be for St. Louis to avoid having to be on the hook for yet another stadium before it’s even paid off half the old one.

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