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.

Arbitrators rule for Rams: St. Louis must cough up $700m or let team walk

While the Phoenix Coyotes sale was collapsing in Arizona, an equally momentous event was taking place in St. Louis, where a panel of arbitrators officially ruled that the Rams$700 million plan for upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome would keep the dome a “first tier” facility, while the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission’s $124 million renovation option would not. Which means that according to the terms of the Rams lease — which, as Field of Schemes readers will recall, was the result of some of the most awful negotiating by a city in the history of stadium deals — either the city needs to spend $700 million to upgrade a stadium that only cost $280 million a year to build in the first place 17 years ago, or the team can bust out of its lease and move elsewhere in 2015.

This was probably inevitable, given that that godawful lease — as excerpted in the arbitrators’ ruling, available here — defined “first tier” as “the Facilities, taken as a whole, and each Component of the Facilities, respectively taken as a whole, must be among the ‘top’ twenty-five percent (25%) of all NFL football stadia and NFL football facilities, if such NFL football stadia and facilities were to be rated or ranked according to the matter sought to be measured.” In other words, the Jones Dome needed to be considered one of the top eight stadiums in the NFL, and every piece of the dome, from scoreboard to bathroom plumbing, needed to be in the top eight as well, or else the Rams could demand that it be upgraded and walk away from their lease if it wasn’t. What on earth the city negotiators thought they were doing — that hardly anybody would ever build another new NFL stadium after this one? that “state of the art” would only mean painting it new, trendy colors? that they’d be out of office long before anybody noticed what had happened? — isn’t clear, but the upshot is that St. Louis now faces a choice between spending $700 million to replace a 17-year-old stadium, or letting the team it spend big to lure to town walk after only 19 years.

The St. Louis CVC now has 30 days to decide whether to accept or reject the Rams’ plan, with most bets being on rejecting it, since holy crap, $700 million. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Rams will leave, though, just that this will likely be the start of a brutal stadium negotiation battle. As sums up matters:

While the next decision is up to St. Louis pols, Rams owner Stan Kroenke has all the cards. Kroenke has repeatedly stated that he wants to keep the team in St. Louis, so an LA threat may not loom as large as it would for the Chargers, or even the Raiders. Still, AEG’s Farmers Field project should prove an effective stalking horse if Kroenke chooses to use it. Already there is some talk about the Rams moving to a new open air stadium, which could be located downtown or in the suburbs of St. Louis County. The Rams’ real goal may be to get a venue where they have control over all revenue streams, even if it means some sort of private contribution towards the stadium’s cost. In the end, a new stadium may be the only solution that works for both parties, since it wasn’t clear where the Rams would play while the renovations at the Dome happened (the project could take as long as three years).

I’m not sure if “works for both parties” is the best way of putting it, since building an entirely new stadium less than two decades after the last one isn’t likely what anyone in St. Louis had in mind as a “workable” plan. Both sides have leverage here — the Rams have the ability to move, thanks to the NFL’s national TV contract that makes market size for teams pretty much irrelevant, while St. Louis has the team’s proven fan base and the fact that no other cities have “first tier” stadiums ready to go or even in the works. Still, it’s almost impossible to see this whole thing ending without somebody, whether taxpayers in St. Louis or in another city, shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars. All we can really hope is that whoever negotiates the lease this time refuses to put in a state-of-the-art clause, or this could turn into one of those battles that repeats itself endlessly.

St. Louis offers Rams rejiggered stadium plan, but still no $700m

The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission abruptly revised its proposal for upgrades to the Rams‘ Edward Jones Dome yesterday, ditching the new stadium-side tailgating space while adding more club seats and more interior space. The not-quite-as-big-as-the-Dallas-Cowboys‘ scoreboard would also go from flat to four-sided, which is what would allow the CVC to rip out two existing scoreboards and replace them with club seating.

None of this is likely to have much impact on the CVC’s ongoing arbitration case with the Rams, since the team owner Stan Kroenke wants $700 million in upgrades, where the commission’s new plan would still only cost $124 million, with half of that coming from the team. How would Kroenke look his fellow owners in the eye at their annual brandy-snifting retreat if he only got an eight-figure payoff for his infamous state-of-the-art lease clause? How, I ask?

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.