The St. Louis Rams responded May 1 to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission proposal from February 1 and today the public gets its first look at the organization’s wishes for a “top-tier” NFL stadium. The existing lease requires the CVC, the stadium’s owner, to keep the facility among the most lavish in the league. The proposal, released by Missouri Attorney General against the Ram’s wishes, in response to multiple Sunshine Law requests, does not include a price tag, stating that the plan is “presented in sufficient detail to permit the CVC to price improvements.”
What remains unclear is what changes actually constitute “top-tier” status. The Rams may terminate the lease in 2015 if the stadium does not rate better than three-quarters of NFL venues in 15 categories ranging from seating to advertising opportunities and concessions. The two parties have until June 15 to reach a deal. If the final judgment in the presumed arbitration process deems a retractable roof, additional seats and more as necessary, the lease that brought the Rams to St. Louis must be recognized as one of the worst in sports history.
In detail, the Ram’s proposed changes are in effect a new stadium. The south, west and majority of the north facade would remain, according to the proposal. Instead of the CVC’s small windows added to the existing structure, the Rams would like glass walls more than 30 feet high and a retractable roof, a “glazed building envelope”. The varied facets of the tilted, moving roof would be a unique addition to professional sports stadiums.
The east facade would see drastic changes, expanding to the east and closing Broadway Avenue. The Rams say that Broadway would be “re-routed” to existing Fourth Street. Northbound Broadway would terminate at the new all-glass ground to stadium roof southeast main lobby. The eastern expansion would integrate the existing entrance to the Lumiere Casino tunnel into the stadium structure.
The playing surface itself would be shifted more than 50 feet to the east to accommodate new lower level seating structure to the west. More than 6,000 seats would be added, and configurations introduced meant to accommodate the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four events.
The existing stadium opened in 1995 and was financed primarily with $256 million in bonds. Repaying those bonds will cost Missouri taxpayers $720M over 30 years. Missouri spends $12 million and the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County each pay $6 million annually on stadium debt. The bonds on the existing structure are scheduled to be repaid in 2025.
So what happens now that the Rams have handed over their wish list? The negotiations appear to be heading to arbitration. If a deal isn’t struck, the Rams can leave, but will they? A Los Angeles group has proposed a $1B new NFL stadium and development and that city has been without a team since the Rams left in 1995. The Raiders left LA for Oakland in 1994.
While not having a team in LA may seem like an incredible hole for the league, leaving the market open has provided necessary leverage for several franchises seeking new or renovated stadiums. The latest is the Minnesota Vikings, where the state legislature approved a bill for a new $975M Vikings stadium just last week. Still possibly on the move are the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders, and of course the Rams. The specter or departing a city has been the primary motivator of securing public funds.
The CVC’s initial plan submitted to the Rams included just $60M in public money, to be raised primarily by increased user fees at and around the stadium. The CVC asked the Rams to pay for $64M of that $124M renovation plan. On what basis? In their own research, they’ve found that 52% of the cost of stadia built or substantially renovated since 2005 (the last “top tier” deadline) has been born by franchisees (the owners). Although the Rams avoided a sticker shock headline by not included a cost estimate, if this formula were to hold, the CVC could still be asked to find $350M or more of a possible $700M project, depending on estimates for the Rams proposal revealed today.
How likely is the city, state, region and fan base to support $350M in additional funding beyond the $24M paid each year already? Who knows. Will a proposal for an all-new stadium surface? We’ll see. The Rams want what is basically a new home and presumably the CVC would like to give it to them. All signs seem to point to the negotiations running their full course, but ultimately the Rams will stay, after getting all they can.