Missouri senate fails to ban Rams stadium funds, threatens to refuse to make bond payments instead

The question of who can authorize taking tax revenue currently going to pay off the Edward Jones Dome and using it to fund a new St. Louis Rams stadium has gotten ultra-crazy, with these latest developments in the state legislature:

  • The state senate passed a bill banning using the money to pay for a new stadium.
  • House leaders got the funding ban stricken from the bill in conference committee.
  • Senate leaders said the governor would go ahead with selling bonds based on the Jones Dome money at his own risk, because “we’re not technically obligated to pay” and could just refuse to appropriate funds to pay off the bonds, and bondholders wouldn’t like that much, now would they?

The plan to use the Jones Dome payments for a new stadium is in plenty of trouble as it is, because then somebody would still have to pay off the Jones Dome, and in the governor’s current plan that somebody is the city of St. Louis — which has a law prohibiting new stadium funding without a public vote, and lawyers willing to sue to enforce that provision. But state senators threatening not to pay the governor’s IOUs are a nice added touch. At this point, Nixon might want to just hold a referendum already, and pull out all the stops trying to win it — though it’d undoubtedly help if Rams owner Stan Kroenke were showing any interest in helping to do so, since he’s the guy with the money for a big-bucks ad campaign. What’s the world coming to when you can’t even count on the local billionaire to buy votes?

Missouri sues St. Louis to duck public vote on Rams, because not leaving loopholes was “overly broad”

So St. Louis residents are threatening to sue to enforce the city’s requirement for a public vote on any stadium spending, eh? Well, the state-run Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority will see your threat and raise it, filing an actual suit on Friday against the city of St. Louis to exempt itself from any requirements to let voters decide on spending public money on a new Rams stadium:

The suit, filed in state court, says a 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote is “overly broad, vague and ambiguous,” and asks the judge to rule that it either doesn’t apply in this case, conflicts with state statute or is unconstitutional.

Definitely one of those. Definitely.

To help understand what’s going on here, let’s travel back in time to 2002, when the Cardinals were in the midst of arranging public funding for a new stadium of their own, and local activists were trying to head off the city and county governments from approving it without letting actual residents have a say. The city referendum requirement passed 55-45% in 2002, and a similar county requirement by an even larger margin two years later, but courts subsequently ruled that since the money had already been allocated, it couldn’t be rescinded by the public vote requirement. All future stadium projects, though, would have to go before the voters.

That’s the clause that the Jones Dome authority is now objecting to, and it’s making a rather strange stand, arguing that because the referendums’ backers drew them up so stringently — they require a public vote on any “financial assistance” including tax breaks, tax-increment financing, free land, loans, or city or county bonds — that this is unacceptably broad. If they’d only been reasonable enough to leave some loopholes that the Rams could drive a stadium-sized truck through, then this lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary. Silly voters, expecting to get the right to actually vote on something meaningful.

Reminder: “state-of-the-art” clauses let team owners make stadiums the gifts that keep on giving

In case you missed it, Aaron Gordon had a good overview at Vice Sports yesterday of stadium state-of-the-art clauses and how they screw over taxpayers, citing me lots. In particular, Gordon noted that one of the big problems with these clauses — which tons of local governments continue to agree to — is that “state-of-the-artness” is a legally fuzzy concept:

According to the Rams’ lease, such things are measured by at least 15 different components: “everything from luxury boxes to club seats, lighting, scoreboards… regular stadium seating, concession areas, common areas (such as concourses or restrooms), electronic and telecommunications equipment,” as well as locker and training rooms, and the field itself.

But, according to an analysis by Kristen E. Knauf in the Marquette Sports Law Review, this doesn’t provide much clarification. What is state-of-the-art lighting? How does one rank NFL locker rooms? Does a state-of-the-art concession area mean better food, shorter lines, Apple Pay compatibility? The lease doesn’t provide any details. It’s up to an arbitrator to decide, and that arbitrator just so happened to side with the Rams in 2005. That triggered negotiations for a $30 million stadium upgrade, which was completed in 2009.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re a local government official who is considering signing one of these clauses. In fact, if you happen to be standing near a local government official, consider printing this out and smacking them upside the head with it. History will thank you.

St. Louis law prof threatens lawsuit to force vote on city funding for Rams stadium

The question of whether the voter-approved law requiring a referendum before the city of St. Louis spends any money on a new Rams stadium isn’t going to be left up to elected officials to decide: St. Louis University law school professor John Ammann and three students have promised to sue the city if it tries to spend any money on the project without a public vote.

Ammann said he believes any city assistance — even vacating streets — will trigger a city law requiring a public vote.

“If one person at City Hall is working on this, well, then that’s financial assistance for the project,” Ammann said. “The law is pretty broad. It says ‘direct’ or ‘indirect.’”

This has been the likely outcome ever since it was revealed that Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan for funding the stadium was to have the city take over bond payments on the old stadium (which, under this theory, is grandfathered because it was approved before the referendum law) and use the state money thus freed up to pay for a new one. Still, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is fairly freaking out, concluding that “If the city has to hold a public vote before devoting its $6 million, NFL owners could question the plan’s legitimacy.” Foolish humans! Legitimate plans are not voted on by the people! They are imposed by the galactic emperor!

NFL says no vote on L.A. moves for Rams, Chargers, Raiders until end of year, “at the soonest”

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Los Angeles NFL relocation melodrama is likely to drag on most of the year, and now it’s official:

NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman, the league’s point man on L.A., dismissed conjecture that a vote of owners is imminent, saying “that’s based on the fact there’s been an awful lot of progress made on the two sites in Los Angeles, and it’s beginning to be tangible.”

“But the fact is we’re not planning for a vote in May or any time soon,” Grubman said. “We have a process. It’s deliberate. There are steps that need to be taken, and I think that’s much more likely to be later in this calendar year at the soonest.”

That all makes sense, as right now the game that the owner of the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders are all playing is to play their home cities off against L.A. to see where they can get the most lucrative deal, and setting an early deadline would only cut off the bidding war prematurely. Still, that “at the soonest” is an indication that the NFL may be ready to let the L.A. war go on into early 2016 — or beyond? — so be ready for a long, long stadium shakedown season before we find out what’s a bluff or whose is going to be called.

 

Missouri gov says if it would mean public vote on Rams stadium, we don’t need county’s stinking money

It’s not quite building atop the site of ancient Indian burial mounds, but it’s still another sign that the St. Louis plan for a new Rams stadium isn’t going well: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has told St. Louis County officials that he doesn’t want the county involved in the stadium financing plan, because the county would require a public vote and then it might lose, duh.

That would solve one problem, but create another, by blowing open a $6 million a year (roughly enough to pay off $100 million in construction costs) hole in Nixon’s proposed stadium budget, which already has enough holes as it is. Jones Dome chair Jim Shrewsbury, a Nixon appointee, painted this move as a way to convince the NFL that Missouri is serious about getting a stadium passed quickly, but the NFL cares about who’s going to pay for stadiums (preferably not them), not just whether they can proceed without public votes, so this looks like out of a frying pan and into the fire. It’s starting to seem more likely that Stan Kroenke might actually pull the trigger on an L.A. move, though with a $1.86 billion price tag, you have to think that at least part of him is hoping that Nixon finds enough spare change so that he doesn’t have to.

Proposed St. Louis stadium for Rams is on site of sacred Indian burial mounds (no, really)

What does the St. Louis Rams stadium demand saga need, now that it’s already been through an arbitrator ruling that Rams owner Stan Kroenke could break his lease thanks to the city’s terrible contract lawyers, Kroenke refusing to talk to the governor’s stadium tax force when they call, proposals to spend more than $400 million in state money without explaining where it would come from, and controversies over tearing down historic warehouses to make way for a new stadium? How about, I dunno, the new stadium being built atop an ancient Indian burial mound? Can we get that?

Big Mound, which was 319 feet long, 158 feet wide and 34 feet high, was at the northern end of the St. Louis formation.

Most of the rest of the mounds were in the footprint of the proposed football stadium.

Yep, the Rams stadium mess officially now has everything. Not that this will likely be a major factor given that St. Louis demolished its mounds in the 19th century (the ones across the river are still there), but you’ve still got to appreciate St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan’s suggestion that the city should just reconstruct the mounds instead as a tourist attraction, since “it would be a lot cheaper to rebuild the mounds than to build a stadium. Plus, the owners could never threaten to take the team away. The owners died centuries ago.”

 

Goodell on new St. Louis stadium for Rams: Sounds good, now hurry up about it already

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken on the subject of a new Rams stadium in St. Louis! He has said nice things:

“They have a great site. They have a site that I think is important for St. Louis to redevelop. I think it’s a perfect stadium site, as the governor told me. And I think they’re working towards making it a reality.

“And that’s a positive. The efforts that are going on there are very positive.”

And he has said vaguely threatening things:

Goodell said Wednesday that the league has had discussions on the committee level about moving up the timetable for relocation following the 2015 season.

“We’ve had some discussions within our (Los Angeles opportunity) committee,” Goodell said. “Whether that time frame — if there was a relocation — whether that’s the appropriate time frame to do so. There’s a lot to do when you relocate a franchise.”

All of this, of course, is part of the job description of a commissioner, who is expected to play both good cop and bad cop for team owners’ stadium demands. The only real news here, such as it is, seems to be that the NFL might consider moving up the decision time for announcing that a team or teams will or won’t move to L.A. for 2016. Also, that the league is apparently calling the group of owners in charge of this the “Los Angeles opportunity committee,” which you have to hope at least makes them feel better about their job.

NFL finally officially admits that, yes, some teams are threatening to move to L.A.

Don’t look now, but NFL VP for Stadium Extortion Eric Grubman has actually said the R-word with regard to the St. Louis Rams:

A National Football League executive briefed team owners Monday, for the first time as a group, on competing stadium proposals that could send the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles, including key steps “between now and any eventual relocation.”…

“This is the first time with membership that we’ve been able to be relatively open and transparent as to what was going on,” Grubman said after he presented at the NFL’s annual owners meeting at the historic Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix.

Outstanding! So now for NFL owners who are unable to read the papers, Grubman has spelled out that it’s Rams owner Stan Kroenke who’s threatening to go to Inglewood, and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis who are threatening to go to Carson.

What the rest of us would no doubt hope the NFL would be more “open and transparent” about is whether these planned L.A.-area stadiums are serious or just bluffs, or serious bluffs intended to shake loose stadium deals from their hometowns but which they’re willing to go through with, maybe, if left with no better alternatives. And Grubman at least hinted at number three, sorta kinda maybe in part:

Grubman emphasized that home markets would have a chance to pitch their own proposals before a decision is made to move any team to Los Angeles.

“The last thing I’d want is for a relocation proposal to come forward, and a home market to say, ‘Wait. You told us we had another few months,’” Grubman said. “I don’t want to do that.”

For all of these owners, there are two major hurdles to clear if they really want to move: finding the money to build new stadiums in L.A. without losing their shirts, and getting approval from the NFL’s other owners to do so. Both are going to be difficult, in different ways: Even in a big market like L.A., coming up with enough revenue to pay off close to $2 billion in stadium debt is a tough nut, and getting 24 of 32 NFL owners to agree on anything, especially when you know that the teams you’d be shutting out of moving to L.A. in your stead will vote no, takes a lot of tricky campaigning. With the next window for relocations coming up next winter, expect most of this year to be taken up with behind-the-scenes work lobbying for support among NFL owners, while waiting to see what San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis propose as alternatives. There is much, much haggling yet to be done, in other words, so it’s pointless even to read tea leaves now.

Chargers, Raiders, Rams still working on stadiums everywhere, still anybody’s guess who ends up where

What’s going on the past few days in the NFL-to-Los-Angeles competition, you ask? (Strange thing to ask first thing on a Monday morning, but hey, who am I to judge?) Man, what isn’t going on?

  • The proposed Carson stadium for the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders has gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot, which means it’s also gathered enough signatures for the Carson city council to just pass it without it ever getting to the ballot. No word yet from the council on what its plans are.
  • St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is set to bring “schematic plans for the world’s most interactive and integrated football stadium” in Inglewood to the NFL owners meetings this week, which include a clear plastic roof that covers not just the stadium but a performance space and plaza next door. (I can’t figure out how to link directly to the L.A. Times’ slideshow, but click through here and scroll down for your vaportecture fix.)
  • L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, standing in the back and waving his arms wildly for attention, says he still wants to build a stadium next to the L.A. Convention Center, even if nobody else does: “We have a good stadium deal downtown if anybody wants to take us up on it.”
  • The chair of the advisory group tasked with figuring out how to build a new Chargers stadium in San Diego says it will cost between $700 million and $1.5 billion and “rely on a mix of revenue streams,” as reported by San Diego TV station XETV. That sure narrows it down.
  • The Oakland city council voted to add Alameda County to its negotiations over the going-nowhere-fast Coliseum City project, then the council president promptly put it in terms of the creepiest metaphor ever: “Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney said the agreement with [Coliseum City’s Floyd] Kephart was in its early stages — like a new relationship. At this point there hasn’t even been a first kiss, McElhaney said. The city and county coming together is a crucial step, she said, like two parents supporting a child. ‘We’ve been separated for awhile, but we agree the baby is valuable,’ she said.” Cue the obvious sound clip.

In other words, still nobody knows nothing, but everyone is working really hard at everything that doesn’t involve actual money being raised or approvals being gotten. Tune in next week for more non-news!