ST. LOUIS • The dispute over how the Edward Jones Dome should be renovated to close an escape clause in the St. Louis Rams’ lease will go into binding arbitration that could last until year’s end.
The publicly appointed board that oversees the Dome, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, voted in a teleconference this morning to begin the arbitration process. The CVC had until tomorrow to strike a deal with the Rams and avoid arbitration.
The meeting, which was closed to the public, lasted 23 minutes.
Brian Hall, the CVC’s chief marketing officer, told a Post-Dispatch reporter who was not allowed in the meeting that CVC commissioners “voted to authorize staff and legal counsel to file for arbitration.”
At issue is a clause in the Rams’ 30-year lease that requires the Dome to be a “first-tier” facility by 2015, or one that is better than three-quarters of all National Football League venues in 15 categories. If the CVC is unable or unwilling to satisfy that requirement, the Rams can terminate the lease after the 2014 season.
If that happens, the team can chose to continue playing at the Dome on a year-to-year basis, or the team can leave for another facility in the St. Louis area or elsewhere.
Three renovation plans for the Dome have been made public, revealing the competing visions of the CVC and the Rams.
On Jan. 25, the CVC proposed $48 million in improvements, including a new 947-space garage, all to be funded publicly. The Rams also would have kept all game-day revenue generated at the garage.
Days later, the CVC put forward a $124 million plan that did not include a garage but still featured a three-story structure on Baer Plaza that would serve as an entrance for fans in club seats and suites. This proposal required the Rams to cover $64 million of the cost.
The Rams rejected both CVC offers and proposed a much grander renovation plan, which called for much of the stadium to be rebuilt with bigger VIP areas, more concession facilities and a sliding roof panel.
The Rams' plan did not indicate how much, if anything, the team would contribute. City officials estimated the Rams' proposal could cost $700 million and would make it impossible to book large conventions during construction.
In a letter rejecting the Rams’ plan, CVC President Kathleen "Kitty" Ratcliffe told a franchise executive that the team's proposal "violates the letter and spirit" of the Dome lease.
According to the lease, the CVC and the Rams should should make "reasonable efforts" to complete arbitration by Dec. 31. Three arbitrators, chosen jointly by the CVC and the team, will hear the case.
At the end of this process, the arbitrators must either endorse one of the existing renovation proposals or, more likely, develop a separate plan that the arbitrators believe will meet the first-tier requirement.
After that happens, the CVC will have 60 days to decide its next move. It can agree to move forward with the plan backed by arbitrators, or do nothing and allow the Rams to terminate the lease.