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Rams exit could come with $19 million parting gift

Rams exit could come with $19 million parting gift

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CLAYTON • The Rams have left St. Louis but there may be a $19 million parting gift for the team still on the table.

The same lease that allowed the National Football League team to leave for Los Angeles may also allow it to buy its practice facility in Earth City for just $1.

The public board that governs the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams played, sued on Thursday to block the team from buying Rams Park.

The Jones Dome authority owns the park’s 27 acres. It leased the facility to the Rams for $25,000 a year.

Now the board wants to sell the land, once appraised by the county for nearly $19 million. The proceeds could be used to refill dome authority bank accounts, after efforts to plan a new riverfront stadium and keep the Rams in St. Louis totaled more than $16 million. The authority has previously acknowledged it does not have enough money for future facility upkeep.

But a clause in the Rams lease gives the team the option to buy the park — for $1 — after the dome’s 29th anniversary in 2024.

And the dome authority says it can’t sell the land if the Rams have such an option.

The suit, filed by authority attorneys Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, wants an answer now.

“The (dome authority) owns the training facility, which is a valuable asset,” said Blitz attorney Chris Bauman. “We have a responsibility to maximize the value of that. And to do that, we need certainty concerning this invalid option.”

Rams owner Stan Kroenke applied to National Football League owners in January to move the team to Los Angeles. In his application, he blasted the region, arguing St. Louis’ population and economic growth is so sluggish it can’t support three professional sports teams.

Later that month, the NFL owners approved Kroenke’s move, leaving local officials embittered and fans distraught.

Now leaders here wonder if the Rams really do want to buy the land; they have intimated they do, the suit says.

“I think it would be bad form and in bad character,” said Dave Peacock, co-chairman of the effort to build the riverfront football stadium, along with attorney Bob Blitz. “Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it right.”

It is unclear if anyone has asked Kroenke to give up the option. Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, declined to comment.

The Rams lease on the Jones Dome expires Thursday. The lease on Rams Park was extended to April 30, according to the lawsuit.

On its face, the lease says the Rams have the right to buy Rams Park for $1. Moreover, it says, that option “shall survive any termination of the Lease regardless of the reason for such termination, and Lessee shall after any termination continue to have the right to exercise the Option as herein provided.”

But the lawsuit argues that the Rams’ departure doesn’t terminate the lease; the Rams went year-to-year, as allowed in the lease, and the year simply expires. The lease, the suit continues, says the $1 option survives a termination, not an expiration.

Moreover, the suit argues that the lease gives the Rams the option forever, without an end date — and the law does not allow someone to tie up a property in perpetuity.

Jim Shrewsbury, president of the Dome Authority board, said he wasn’t emotional over the issue.

“It’s a dispute over the terms of the lease,” he said. “They believe they have an option. We do not believe that option is enforceable.”

“It’s a business dispute,” he said. “My goal is to do what’s best for the regional sports authority and for the region.”

And the dome authority, he said, needs the money.

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