As the Rams move toward a season that they hope will result in their first playoff appearance since 2004, there are quiet movements afoot to try and solve the Rams’ stadium issue and get them on the path toward a new facility.
In talking to multiple people involved with the process, there appear to be several prerequisites in place before the process can begin. One is that the Edward Jones Dome needs to remain a viable competitor for events such as NCAA basketball tournament action, college football games and pre-Olympic events like swimming, in addition to being a year-round convention facility. That means that somewhere along the line, improvements to the Dome for those purposes must take place – and be paid for.
Secondly, it seems like a public/private partnership is necessary. Neither the public nor Rams owner Stan Kroenke appear to be enthusiastic about paying the entire bill for a stadium. Floating amid the speculation of a deal between the two sides is the issue of land. Where exactly would this facility stand?
An idea has been set forth to offer Kroenke a parcel of land near the Dome and allow him to join with public entities to build there. An area just north of Laclede’s Landing, bounded by 1st street to the east, Broadway to the west, Mullanphy to the north and Cass Street to the south would easily provide enough space for a stadium, with room east of 1st to the riverfront and west of Broadway to I-70 for parking and development.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently joined The Fast Lane, and said he likes the model used in Minneapolis. According to Vikings.com, that calls for the Vikings to pay $477 million of the $975 million cost. The team will generate funds from Stadium Builders Licenses, and also get a loan from the NFL to help pay their portion of the costs.
“I think the Minnesota deal is an interesting one to look at, just because, with the G4 program (which provides teams building stadiums a $200 million loan) and the league being involved in that investment, that’s an important part,” Nixon said. “We look at other deals. I talked to Governor Dayton in Minnesota and other governors around the country. You bet we stay in touch with them, making sure we’re balancing the tax payers’ priorities with the desire to be major league cities.”
In Minnesota, the public will pay $498 million, with the state paying $348 million and the city of Minneapolis paying $150 million for its new fixed-roof facility. That money will be generated by bond sales, a portion of convention center taxes, a pull-tab game tax, bingo and a one-time inventory tax on cigarettes that will generate $36 million.
For St. Louis’ purposes, a competitor for the Dome for climate-controlled events doesn’t make sense. So, an outdoor facility – provided improvements to the Dome – would be the preferred path. That would also mean that, unlike Minneapolis, St. Louis wouldn’t be in the running for a Super Bowl and the economic benefit that accompanies it.(Some university studies suggest the impact of a Super Bowl is as low as $30 million. A study commissioned by the city of Indianapolis by Rockport Analytics claimed the Super Bowl there in 2012 brought in $327 million net to the economy, not to mention $89 million in taxes the city wouldn’t have otherwise generated.)
How could something like this be pulled off in St. Louis? Here’s how. Right now, the state of Missouri, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County pay into the debt for the Edward Jones Dome/America’s Center. The state’s annual bill is $12 million, with the city and county each paying $6 million. Those bonds are scheduled to mature in 2021, when the state, city and county will have paid the facility off. As St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s Chief of Staff, Jeff Rainford, told the Post-Dispatch two years ago, the city generates roughly $166 million a year for the time the entire America’s Center is available for conventions – from February to July every year. Conventions are booked years in advance, and with the NFL schedule not coming out until April, St. Louis is shut out of the major convention business from August through January right now.
If those payments currently going to cover the cost of America’s Center – a hotel/motel tax in the county and general tax revenue from the city and state – could be shifted to a new football facility for 20 years, A total of $480 million would be generated. With the Rams in a new facility, America’s Center could perhaps double its convention business and St. Louis’ hospitality revenue from $166 million annually to $333 million. Because of its central location, experts say that St. Louis has become more attractive than ever as a convention site. It’s cheaper to get to, and more people can attend conferences.
If Kroenke and the local governments could agree on a deal that includes $480 million of public money and he and the league covering the rest, a public/private partnership similar to what Minnesota has could be achieved, with no additional cost to any taxpayers and, in theory, a windfall from additional convention business.
The Rams could generate more revenue from a new stadium, and could get more from parking. There’s space for a tailgating lot between 1st street and the riverfront, and a garage could be built on the lot north of the Dome. A walkway across 70, or a tunnel under the highway similar to what Lumiere has, would generate revenue. Kroenke, the nation’s eighth-largest land owner, could redevelop areas west and north of a stadium, along with Laclede’s Landing.
Governor Nixon says, “Two things are clear. One, we’re proud to be an NFL city, (and it’s) great to have a Missouri owner making the kinds of investments with the coach and the staff they need to (provide) the top level of competition, and then secondly we have a long history with that facility (the Edward Jones Dome). The state of Missouri and other local entities own it, and as we move forward we want to make sure we have a venue that can not only hold the Rams but the Final Four and conventions. I think everyone sees that, and are looking for long term commitments all around.
“We stand ready to work if there’s long term commitments around there, and I think making sure that that facility (the Dome) is one that is used year-round and that can attract events other than NFL games is part of the magic of making sure that we get to the appropriate deal.”
This would be a deal that makes sense for everyone. It provides St. Louis and Missouri the chance to generate more revenue from their convention center, to remain a first-class city with first-class sports, and the opportunity to continue to benefit from the presence of the Rams and the NFL. It provides the franchise the opportunity to build the first-tier facility it desires, with more opportunity for revenue generation than exists at the Dome. And it’s in a spot that would provide Kroenke to develop land, enhance a community and make a ton of money in the process.