ST. LOUIS • The St. Louis stadium task force prepared and submitted a “very actionable” plan to the National Football League, Gov. Jay Nixon said on Friday. The league, Nixon said, fabricated reasons to disregard the proposal and approve the St. Louis Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles.
“It was very disappointing that we followed the guidelines, did what folks said, and that wasn’t enough here,” Nixon said, in his first in-depth interview on the subject. “When you look at everything that was done, we met the guidelines.”
In the interview, exclusive to the Post-Dispatch, Nixon explained why he sidestepped votes of the public and of the state Legislature. He discussed the league’s feedback on the task force proposal, his meeting with Rams owner Stan Kroenke at the team practice facility, and Nixon’s hopes for the future of the riverfront site.
He also consistently — and ardently — chastised the NFL for “making up reasons” to allow the Rams to move to Los Angeles.
League executives responded Friday, saying the NFL spent “a tremendous” amount of time helping cities plan their stadiums, and owners “took a tremendous amount of information into account before making their decision.”
Last week, owners rejected a plan by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders to build a stadium in Carson, Calif., and voted instead, 30-2, for Kroenke’s sparkling Inglewood stadium, which has now risen in price to $2.66 billion.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, even U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill all lashed out immediately.
Nixon released a statement, and took questions at unrelated news conferences.
But on Friday, he spoke his mind.
Nixon started work two years ago, when news leaked out that Kroenke had purchased land in Los Angeles, he said. “If you’re governor of a state, and a major business in your state is talking about moving, you fight to keep them here,” he said.
He met with NFL executives numerous times, first, to “open lines of communication.” When his office was having a hard time connecting with Kroenke, Nixon reached out to the league again. They also met to talk about the league’s relocation guidelines and the St. Louis plan’s progress.
“We had a lot of positive feedback from a number of owners as well as league staff,” he said. “I think they were impressed by the … speed with which we were able to overcome a lot of hurdles.”
As for why he waited until November of 2014 to announce his task force, Nixon just said he needed to do it in time for the Legislature’s 2015 session, and before the Rams declared that they would go year-to-year at the Edward Jones Dome, that January.
“What I wanted to do was to make sure we had a preliminary plan so I could get that in front of the public and the Legislature at the beginning of the legislative session,” he said. “I knew folks would want to look at it, and have discussions about it.”
Votes by the public in St. Louis or the Legislature in Jefferson City weren’t legally necessary, he maintained. And he wasn’t about to add them onto a project “already as complicated and challenging as this one was,” he said.
Moreover, he called the NFL’s worries about a hostile state Legislature “irrelevant.”
“If the best excuse they can come up with is some subsequent legislator might vote yes or no on a bill — they can do that on anything,” he said.
In December, Nixon met Kroenke in person at Rams Park in Earth City. But Nixon wouldn’t discuss it on Friday. “We had a good straightforward discussion,” he said, “that didn’t change either of our minds.”
Nixon and his task force is now examining “whatever legal options are out there” to recover the $16 million spent on stadium planning.
But more importantly, the governor suggested on Friday, was the land on the riverfront.
“That’s a lot of great work to put that tract together,” Nixon said.
Already, he added, there’s new interest in redevelopment there.