St. Louis agency rejects Rams’ $700m renovation request

That didn’t take long:

The agency that operates the Edward Jones Dome on Friday rejected an improvement plan for the 17-year-old stadium proposed by the St. Louis Rams.

The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission said in a brief statement that it believes it is in “the best interest of the community and the Rams to engage in meaningful dialogue over the next two weeks, and looks forward to the opportunity to do so at the earliest convenience of Rams management.”

If the Rams and the CVC can’t work out their differences in the next two weeks — and good luck with that, given that the Rams want a $700 million overhaul with sliding roof panels and the CVC is offering $60 million toward a new scoreboard — the fight over what a “top-tier” stadium means will head to binding arbitration. And then the real fun will begin.

Rams seeking $700m in upgrades to 17-year-old, $280m dome

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has finally revealed his secret wish list for upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome, and they’re a doozy: Knocking down half the stadium and extending it outward to include larger concourses, two “party platforms,” and a glass curtain wall; adding a sliding roof panel to let in air and sunlight on days when you want those things; and reconfigured seating to make the dome more attractive to non-football sports like basketball and soccer. The Rams didn’t include an estimated price tag, but a construction company hired by the mayor’s office did: a cool $700 million, or nearly twice what the entire dome cost when it was built in 1995, even accounting for inflation.

That’s quite an ask, especially when it comes as a counter to a far more modest $124 million renovation plan offered by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, half of which would be paid for by the team. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the mayor will ask the CVC to reject Kroenke’s plan by June 1.

All of this, really, is just posturing in advance of what everyone has known all along will be an inevitable arbitration hearing this summer to determine what’s a fair public contribution to keep the stadium “top tier,” as required in the Rams’ incredible sweetheart lease. ( reports that if the CVC accepts the arbitrator’s decision, expected sometime in 2013, then the Rams would be bound by it.) Just as there’s no way the Rams were ever going to accept a plan that came down to “how about we buy a new scoreboard and split the cost?”, things like sliding roof panels are just begging to be bargained away first thing; it’s not like one-quarter of current NFL stadiums — or, in fact, any — have mini-sunroofs.

When all is said and done, then, it’s fair to guess that the final public cost of keeping Kroenke happy will be somewhere between $60 million and $700 million. That’s a lot of middle ground, and I don’t think anyone envies the arbitrator his job. But as the saying goes, at least now they can commence with haggling over the price.

Vikings stadium approved, Rams, Raiders line up to be next

And it’s official: The Minnesota senate yesterday passed the conference version of the Vikings stadium bill by a vote of 36-30, giving final legislative approval to the $1 billion project, which will receive $500 million in construction subsidies, plus about $300 million in public money for operating costs. (Or as the Los Angeles Times puts it: “The Vikings will pay $477 million of the stadium costs, the public $348 million and the city of Minneapolis $150 million.” That would be The City of Minneapolis, LLC, presumably.) The Minneapolis city council still needs to sign off on the deal, as does Gov. Mark Dayton, but those are considered formalities.

Stadium supporters celebrated at the capitol, while opponents warned of pending doom (“We know there are going to families who are going to lose their house, probably their marriages, their cars, their livelihoods so we can enjoy football,” said state senator John Howe of the expanded gambling that will help fund the project).

And, of course, everyone started focusing on the question of who’ll be next to get a new stadium, now that Minnesota has set the baseline at $1 billion (fourth-most expensive NFL stadium ever) and $500 million in public construction subsidies (second-most after the Indianapolis Colts), reversing a trend that had seen the New York Giants, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers pay for more than 50% of their new facilities. The San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Purdy wrote that “you can hear dominoes falling, all the way from Minnesota,” opining that with the Vikings off the table for an L.A. move, “the [Oakland] Raiders are in good position to stare down Oakland officials and not blink.” The St. Louis Rams, meanwhile, have upped the ante in their own stadium upgrade campaign, reportedly demanding that the Edward Jones Dome have its fixed roof replaced with a retractable one, something that 1) may not be feasible, 2) would come at an unknown cost, and 3) seems dubious how much benefit it would be for anyone, unless Rams fans are really steering clear of games because they can’t see a patch of blue sky.

Not to be a broken record (in case any readers are too young to have seen a record, perhaps this will help), but it’s important to remember in all this that Los Angeles currently has two new-stadium plans that have been officially designated by the NFL as unacceptable, thanks mostly to the fact that a team owner (or the league) would have to pay for most of the construction cost via either rent payments or a chunk of equity in the team. And maybe also because this not having a team in L.A. thing is just working great for the league’s existing franchises as a boogeyman to scare local elected officials with. NFL owners, start your airplane engines!

Rams reveal stadium demands, but not to you

As required by their lease, the owners of the St. Louis Rams yesterday submitted a counterproposal for keeping the Edward Jones Dome “first-tier,” in response to the city’s plan to roughly go halfsies with the Rams on $124 million in renovations. And the Rams’ plan is … they’re not sayin':

The Rams and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, the public agency that operates the Dome, are not releasing the team’s proposal, even though taxpayers would likely fund the bulk of the improvements.

Officials with the CVC had said they would be happy to release the plan, but only with the Rams’ OK. They initially cited a confidentiality clause in the Rams’ lease for the Dome.

But on Tuesday, the CVC rejected an open-records request from the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch for the plan, offering a new argument by citing exemptions in the state’s Sunshine Law.

The dispute here appears to be whether the current lease negotiations are part of new contract talks, which are exempted from open-records laws, or part of an existing lease, which isn’t. The Post-Dispatch is challenging the ruling, though it doesn’t look like the paper has gone to court yet to seek the Rams documents.

The Post-Dispatch did manage to eke out one tidbit of information, citing “sources” as saying that “the Rams’ plan did not include a cost estimate.” If true, that’s going to make it pretty hard for an arbitrator to determine which plan is more reasonable if that’s where things end up on June 15, as everyone expects. (Rams owner Stan Kroenke, it turns out, not only rejected the city’s initial renovation plan out of hand, but also turned down an offer to shorten the lease by five years in exchange for ditching the “first-tier” language.)

Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell, meanwhile, insists that there’s nothing to worry about from the gag order, since unlike the last round of lease talks, “this go-round has some good, honest creative tension in the room.” Besides, says Burwell: “The CVC will surely reject the Rams’ confidential offer by June 1, and the next step will be to head to arbitration, which will probably drag on until late December. And by then, we will all know every nut and bolt of this negotiation.” Assuming the Rams proposal actually spells out nuts and bolts, that is.

Rams reject St. Louis dome reno offer, ready counterproposal for May 1

As was pretty much expected, the St. Louis Rams yesterday formally rejected the city of St. Louis’ $124 million renovation plan for the Edward Jones Dome, which would have had the team paying for slightly more than half the cost of upgrades. The Rams now have until May 1 to submit a counterproposal, at which point the two sides can haggle until June 15, at which point the whole thing would go to arbitration.

It’s an interesting faceoff: The Rams have the hammer of their sweetheart lease in their pocket, while the city has the threat that if the Rams ask for too much, voters could reject it at the ballot box. (While renovations don’t fall under the 2004 law that requires a referendum for public funding of new sports projects, local politicians have promised to put any Rams deal to a public vote.)

All of which means that it’s time for, you guessed it, speculation about the team moving to Los Angeles. That seems unlikely in the extreme — even St. Louis’s initial offer would be a better deal for the Rams than what’s on the table in L.A. — but it’s pretty much par for the course for any team with stadium issues right now. And you know that Rams owner Stan Kroenke isn’t going to discourage this kind of talk, since, well, you know.

St. Louis unveils plan for Rams to keep up with Joneses

Yesterday was the deadline in St. Louis’ lease with the Rams for the city to come up with a plan for keeping the Edward Jones Dome “top tier,” and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission complied, issuing a $124 million proposal that would include: a giant field-spanning scoreboard like Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys have; 1,500 new club seats; and a new courtyard next to the dome that would be “almost like tailgating but without the cars,” in the words of commission director Kathleen Ratcliffe.

The city would pay for $60 million of the upgrades, with the Rams footing the other $64 million. That’s not likely what Rams owner Stan Kroenke was hoping for — in the famous words of Jerry Reinsdorf, “three-thirds/no-thirds is more of what we had in mind” — but if it boosts the Rams’ revenue by even a few million dollars a year, it’d be a reasonable investment for the team. Of course, that only matters if Kroenke is thinking in terms of investments, and not “What can I extract from the city via this ridiculous lease that they signed?”

The Associated Press reports that Kroenke now has until March 1 to either accept or reject the offer or make a counterproposal; if no agreement is reached by June 15, the matter goes to arbitration (the AP doesn’t say whether it’s binding arbitration or not). St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay also promised in a blog post that “new local public dollars spent to make the facility ‘top tier’ will be subject to the prior vote of the people. If the CVC gets an agreement with the Rams, YOU will get the final say.” Which is good, since it’s the law and all.

Rams, St. Louis battle over London “home” games

A couple of weeks ago, new St. Louis Rams majority owner Stan Kroenke upped the ante in his simmering lease war with the city of St. Louis by scheduling one “home” game a year for the next three seasons to be played in London’s Wembley Stadium. This was widely seen as a slap in the face of his hometown as he tries to angle for either a new or improved stadium to replace the 17-year-old one that was built by the city to lure the Rams in the first place.

Now, St. Louis has slapped back, insisting that playing home games across the Atlantic would violate the team’s lease, which requires that the Rams play all their home games at the Edward Jones Dome. And then the team slapped back in return, issuing a statement that they “look forward to having amicable and meaningful dialogue with the CVC on many issues and believe those conversations should remain between the parties.”

The issue here likely isn’t over whether St. Louis fans get to watch one less game a year in person — after the last few years, Rams fans could be forgiven for wishing that their team played all its games somewhere far, far away — but rather that it gives the city a bargaining chip in its lease squabbles with Kroenke, who’s trying to exercise a “state-of-the-art” clause to threaten to move the team if he doesn’t get a new stadium. The city faces a Wednesday deadline to produce a stadium plan that could be implemented by 2015, or else the Rams could conceivably break their lease after the 2014 season — though as we’ve seen elsewhere, getting out of a lease doesn’t do much for you unless you actually have someplace else to go.

AEG outs five NFL teams as L.A. relocation targets

AEG president Tim Leiweke, not content to be dropping arbitrary deadlines for his company’s downtown Los Angeles stadium plan, let loose another media salvo on Thursday by declaring that his boss, Philip Anschutz (the “A” in “AEG”), was prepared to buy an NFL team to move it to L.A. — and then naming names about which teams he was considering:

“St. Louis, Jacksonville, not extensively, certainly Oakland, San Diego, Minnesota are still in the mix,” Leiweke said listing the teams AEG has met with before adding: “We’re not packing any [moving] vans right now.”

Now, “met with” doesn’t necessarily mean the current team owners are actually considering AEG’s offer (or that there’s a solid offer to consider). Still, it was enough to set off media mayhem in the listed cities. A San Diego Chargers blog declared that “The Hit List Is Out“; Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask issued a statement denying that her team was for sale; and Minnesota Vikings execs insisted that their only meetings with AEG were over possibly operating the new stadium they want built in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, though the St. Louis Rams probably aren’t for sale, ESPN noted this would give their owner welcome leverage in his own stadium campaign. And that’s the main upshot here: For Leiweke to come out with a statement like this is a win-win for all the bigwigs involved — AEG gets a carrot to dangle alongside its July 31 deadline stick, and the owners of all the rumored move targets get a threat to use against their own localities, plus plausible deniability against being blamed for threatening a move.

And as for us? We get to play the home version. (Currently leading: The Jacksonville Jaguars, by a sizeable margin over “nobody” and then the Raiders.)

Tales of city mismanagement: How the St. Louis Rams won their sweetheart lease

Tim Sullivan’s column in Saturday’s San Diego Union-Tribune was dedicated to an important but too-often overlooked topic: how city governments really need some professional help in negotiating stadium deals.

Writes Sullivan:

The one voice we most need to hear is dispassionate and discerning, tactical and tough, more measured than “whatever it takes,” less defiant than “over my dead body,” and carefully positioned in nobody’s pocket. Someone able to joust with the National Football League across a quasi-level bargaining table.

At least one stadium expert agrees, telling Sullivan that “I think it’s pretty clear looking back at history that city officials typically get rings run around them by teams,” and adding by way of examples:

“That state-of-the-art clause the Rams have, they were just throwing stuff in there and they were amazed when St. Louis actually went for it. When Washington, D.C., was sitting down with the Major League Baseball Relocation committee, (the city) said they were thinking in terms of two-thirds public, one-third private (funding). (White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf said, ‘We were thinking more three-thirds, no-thirds.'”

Okay, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s me that Sullivan is quoting. But while the three-thirds/no-thirds story has been reported here before, the bit about the Rams’ surprise success at getting lease concessions from St. Louis comes from an interview I recently conducted with Jim Nagourney, a now-retired sports facility manager and consultant who was in the room when it happened.

Nagourney was working as an ad marketer for Anaheim Stadium, he explains, when he was hired away by the Rams as a consultant on their relocation plans. “I went to a meeting in Los Angeles one morning. We had a whiteboard, and we’re putting stuff down [to demand from cities]. And some of the stuff, I said, ‘Guys, some of this is crazy.’ And John Shaw, who was president of the Rams at the time — brilliant, brilliant guy — said, ‘They can always say no, let’s ask for it.'”

The result, he says, was “probably the most scandalous deal in the country,” one that notoriously included a clause requiring the team’s new stadium to remain “state-of-the-art,” or else the team could break its lease and leave. (“That was John,” says Nagourney of the state-of-the-art clause.) “The city was poorly represented — the city is always poorly represented,” says Nagourney. “And John Shaw was a brilliant negotiator. And we put in all of these ridiculous things, and the city didn’t have the sense to say no to any of them.”

The reason this dynamic happens, over and over, is simple, says Nagourney: “A city attorney is not going to know where the money really is. They’re not going to understand advertising, they’re not going to understand concessions — just a whole range of issues that the team officials intimately understand. They know where the dollars are, and the municipal attorneys do not.” On top of that, he says, city officials get “stars in their eyes. It’s their first time dealing with celebrities. They’re just so enamored with the fact that ‘I’m dealing with people who get their name on Page Six.'”

Add in perks like free luxury suites and the promise players showing up at political appearances, says Nagourney, and “they just lose all sense of proportion.”

So, Sullivan is dead right that cities could use negotiating assistance in stadium deals. The problem is that the very reasons why they’re lousy negotiators are the same ones keeping them from seeking help in the first place.

It’s June, so it must be Rams move threat time

It’s what’s becoming a bit of an annual ritual, talk of the “looming” St. Louis Rams stadium crisis has started up again. The excuse, this time: A group of St. Louis business leaders visited the Indianapolis Colts stadium to see what it takes to make an NFL team happy.

The answer: a big stinking pile of money.

In Indy, three years of negotiations led to a deal in which tax dollars covered most of the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium, and in which the Colts get the vast majority of gameday revenue (concessions, signage, etc.). That may not sound like a good deal for the city, but that’s not how these people see it.

The way Lucas Oil Stadium’s promoters see it, the stadium hosts “100 non-football events a year, from fire department conventions to the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of the Indiana governor’s daughter.” Of course, many of those conventions are actually booked into the adjacent convention center (which uses the stadium for its big plenary events, just as the Hoosier Dome that it replaced was previously), and you have to hope that the governor’s daughter didn’t get married just because there was a new stadium to have the rehearsal dinner in.

The more interesting part of the story here, meanwhile, is buried at the bottom of the article, where Kevin Cahill, a former member of the commission that built the Rams’ current stadium (way back in 1996) and who’s on the RCGA trip summed up the city’s options this way: “We can’t shrug our shoulders and say (to the Rams), ‘you can leave.’ I don’t think that’s the right answer. Just building them a new stadium, I’m not sure that’s the right answer either. Maybe we need to find some middle ground.”

That smells suspiciously like either “major renovation” or “lease concessions,” though I suppose by middle ground he might have meant “build them a new stadium, but ask them to chip in a few million dollars.” And, of course, Cahill doesn’t necessarily represent the business group, and the business group doesn’t necessarily represent the power brokers who’ll actually be negotiating a Rams deal one of these years. But if you’re looking for tea leaves, read ‘em and weep.