ST. LOUIS • The chairman of the region’s tourism bureau, landlord of the Edward Jones Dome, said on Wednesday that he believes the St. Louis Rams want to leave for Los Angeles.
The fight to keep the football team here, said Andrew Leonard, chairman of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, will have to be a “spectacular effort.”
“There’s no question about it, they’d rather be in Los Angeles, in my mind,” Leonard said at a commission meeting Wednesday.
Leonard said he fully supported the St. Louis stadium effort.
Earlier this month, a National Football League executive confirmed, for the first time by a league official, that Rams owner Stan Kroenke was indeed looking elsewhere.
But Leonard’s frank statements are a first from a regional public official.
At the same time, a different stadium authority prepared on Wednesday to begin hiring consultants to develop the local stadium plan that could keep the Rams in St. Louis.
Early this month, Kroenke announced plans to build an 80,000-seat National Football League stadium and 6,000-seat performance venue at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, Calif.
The Rams were bound by the team’s lease at the Jones Dome to stay in St. Louis until 2025. But local officials failed to keep the dome in the “top tier” of NFL stadiums, as required by the lease, allowing the Rams to go year-to-year. The team sent a note to dome managers on Monday, committing to stay in St. Louis only through next season.
A two-member task force appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon, however, is working on a counterproposal to keep the Rams here. Days after Kroenke’s announcement, the two revealed plans for a 64,000-seat, open-air stadium on the Mississippi River, just north of downtown St. Louis. The new stadium would cost nearly $1 billion, with as much as $405 million paid by taxpayers.
But at Wednesday morning’s meeting, convention commission chairman Leonard — a Nixon appointee — said Rams management told him they viewed the two proposals as “parallel projects.”
Leonard, briefing fellow board members, said he’d been meeting with the Rams. Discussions were often practical, he said, regarding, for instance, the team’s decision this week to go year-to-year on its lease with the Edward Jones Dome.
Leonard said he also talked with Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff about stadium progress. Demoff talked in “closely guarded statements,” Leonard said.
Demoff did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The convention commission’s 11-member board comprises its chairman, five members appointed by the mayor of St. Louis and five by the St. Louis county executive.
Also on Wednesday, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which built and owns the Jones Dome, prepared to hire consultants to work on the north riverfront stadium plans.
Jim Shrewsbury, a former city alderman appointed by Nixon to chair the sports authority, said his board would vote on a resolution at its meeting Thursday. The resolution will authorize the hiring of professional consultants to develop a new stadium downtown.
Shrewsbury said Nixon’s task force — authority attorney Robert Blitz and former Anheuser-Busch President David Peacock — had no legal standing to hire.
“This is a technical, legal thing,” Shrewsbury said. “On the other hand, it does have some major significance, because it shows that the state, the city and the county are serious about doing something more than simply talking about this.”
So far, only Blitz’s firm, Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, has been paid for its work on the project — about $28,000, paid by the sports authority. Other consultants have worked on the project for free, several public officials have said.
“I’m sure at some point, we’ll be given a list of consultants that they want,” Shrewsbury said of Peacock and Blitz. “And we will hire them.”
Nixon has been clear, Shrewsbury said: The governor wants the sports authority to be the regional agency in charge here.