Will Rams leave St. Louis? 'Take a deep breath,' official says

2013-02-11T00:40:00Z 2014-01-31T07:04:07Z Will Rams leave St. Louis? 'Take a deep breath,' official saysBy David Hunn dhunn@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8121 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • For all the back-and-forth this past year about the Rams and “first tier” stadiums and Los Angeles, the real game hasn’t even started.

Sit back and relax. If there’s a clock ticking on the Rams’ fate in St. Louis, there is lots of time left — at least two years’ worth.

“To be honest, everybody ought to take a deep breath,” said Mike Jones, chief policy adviser to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “The reality is nothing really happens before the 2015 season.”

The Rams are fresh off an arbitration victory. Their 30-year lease at the Edward Jones Dome will now likely turn into a year-to-year contract — but only after two more football seasons.

Officials with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the Dome, say there is no clause that allows the team to buy its way out. The CVC’s attorney, Greg Smith, said he would sue to block the Rams from leaving early.

“The Rams are obligated to play all of their home games at the Edward Jones Dome through March 15, 2015,” Smith said. “Remedies set out under the lease would include injunctive relief.”

What does that mean?

“It means a judge,” he said, “could tell them they can’t move.”

Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, declined to comment.

The lease gives the CVC 60 days to consider the arbitrators’ ruling.

It is only then — mid-April, at minimum — that the Rams can begin negotiating for new stadiums and new cities. Local officials say there is no timetable for discussing a new home here. The ball is now in the Rams’ hands.

“The options are all theirs. Not ours,” said Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, president of the CVC. “There is no specific plan at this point.”

The Rams’ lease required the CVC to provide an updated “first-tier” stadium for the Rams — in the top eight of 32 National Football League teams — first by 2005, and again by 2015.

The first time the two sides tackled stadium updates, it took four years to finish negotiations. By 2007, the Rams waived the first-tier requirement in exchange for a $30 million wish list of improvements, including new turf, two end zone scoreboards, LED ribbon boards encircling the bowl, and added or renovated seats.

In 2012, the two sides began trading proposals for the 2015 marker.

The CVC’s final plan featured a new glass addition, outdoor terraces and a four-sided center-hung scoreboard. It estimated the total cost at under $200 million, and wanted the Rams to kick in half.

The Rams proposed tearing down half the Dome, extending it across Broadway and building a large glass wall. The team also wanted to add a sliding roof, reconfigured seating, two end zone “party platforms” and new, larger entrances. CVC contractors estimated the plan would cost at least $700 million.

Both sides rejected the opposing proposals. Arbitrators took up the case in the middle of January. They ruled on Feb. 1, just a week after arguments concluded. The Rams’ proposal, they decided, was the only way to make the building a first-tier football facility.

CVC leaders immediately said that it was unlikely the state, St. Louis city and St. Louis County would agree to such an expense. The three are still paying a combined $24 million a year toward the bonds taken out to build the Dome.

Last week, officials repeated that they couldn’t see bringing a $700 million measure to taxpayers. The focus now likely shifts to a new stadium.

“They did us a favor with that ruling,” said Jones, the county official. “Now the community can have a broader conversation about the Rams. And the CVC is not the tip of the spear for that conversation.”

Possible sites for a new stadium have already been identified: The abandoned Chrysler plant in Fenton, a swath of farmland in Maryland Heights, and the empty lots of downtown’s Bottle District. And other ideas could be on the table, such as a downtown stadium on the riverfront.

Meanwhile, some fans continue to fear the Rams will move back to Los Angeles, which is floating two competing stadium proposals but needs a team.

CVC and regional leaders advise local fans not to hold their breath. A move to Los Angeles could cost Rams owner Stan Kroenke $500 million or more in NFL relocation fees. Besides, Rams executives have said they prefer to stay in the area.

A potential Rams move, said regional officials, isn’t something they plan on discussing.

“The real question,” Jones said, “is what is the conversation going to be between the Rams and the community?”

David Hunn covers taxpayer spending on regional cultural institutions. Follow him on Twitter @davidhunn.

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