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Window of Opportunity is Closing

The St. Louis Rams and the CVC (Convention and Visitors Commission) are in the middle of a back and forth volley more befitting a French Open tennis match. Instead of clay, however, the two sides are negotiating over much more than the surface. The current winner is the Edward Jones Investment Company that bought the stadium naming rights several years ago (paying the Rams an average of $2.65 million per year over the course of the 12-year agreement), which is reaping some very good marketing publicity over this now public battle. (In my opinion, the Ed is much in need of a renovation, in order to make it respectable among the other NFL stadiums.)

On Feb. 1, the CVC submitted its proposal. The plan detailed a $124 million facelift of the Edward Jones Dome, which threw the ball of negotiations over the fence to the Rams. The Rams had the option to accept or reject the CVC’s proposal, and they rejected almost immediately upon delivery. The Rams forwarded their counterproposal to the CVC on May 1, and it became public knowledge yesterday when Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster deemed it necessary by law that taxpayers should know what the Rams’ counter entailed, as the people will be footing a portion of the cost.

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said a construction company hired to analyze the Rams’ plan estimated that construction costs would top $700 million. In addition, construction would make the dome unfit for large conventions for at least two years, which he said would have a devastating effect on downtown’s hotels and restaurants.

Devastating effect in the short run, perhaps, but think about the flip side. What will the economy stand to gain in the future from a retooled stadium that could bring in an NCAA Final Four, major concerts, conventions, college football bowl games and more to the city of St. Louis? I know the folks in Indianapolis are glad they have Lucas Oil Stadium, and taxpayers in that state probably expressed the same initial misgivings.

During my 15 years in the league as an NFL executive and my travels as the sideline reporter for the Rams in 2011, I have visited every stadium in the NFL. After trekking to East Rutherford, N.J., last year to cover the Rams-Giants game on Monday Night Football and to Dallas, Texas, where I saw the house that Jerry Jones built (both venues cost well over a billion dollars), I can tell you the Edward Jones Dome is not even close. In fact, it doesn’t compare to 85 percent of the stadiums in the league today.

The dome opened its doors to the Rams 17 years ago when Rams owner Georgia Frontiere and then minority owner Stan Kroneke, among others, played important roles in the relocation of the Rams from Los Angeles to the Show-Me State. The current 30-year lease between the Rams and the CVC expires in 2025, but the clause that states the dome must remain in the top tier of NFL stadiums puts the CVC in a very tough position as it works to negotiate a deal with current majority owner Kroneke.

Details of the Rams’ plan suggest a move toward more natural light. Having grown up in Seattle watching the Seahawks play in the cement tomb otherwise known as the Kingdome, I understand low lighting. Even the Kingdome was brighter than the Ed, and I was not a fan of that stadium.

The Rams are asking for the universe in order to bring the Edward Jones Dome up to a “first tier” facility, and want it to be futuristic as well. The Rams’ 2012 plans and conceptual design started with the request of facility seating, or an enhancement to fixed general seating as well as the addition of private premium suites (field level and elevated). Other key sticking points: patron amenities and support, entailing upgrades of concession stands, stadium and club-level toilets, club level lounges and party platforms and decks; NFL and multipurpose facility upgrade, relating to the Rams’ locker room, the visitors’ locker room, cheerleaders’ dressing area and more; and food service, specifically superior preparation and distribution of high-quality food throughout the stadium.

Many other upgrades focus on facility operations, media and electronic systems, mechanical and electrical departments, a more relaxed flow of fans through the stadium and, of course, the future. Further seating expansion could allow accommodations of a minimum of 6,000 seats, pushing the stadium total to 72,000 seats and thus meeting NFL stadium requirements for a Super Bowl in the near future. This actually becomes a very viable scenario once the stadium is upgraded, because the necessary number of hotels within the region are already in place.

The Rams’ conceptual design of the stadium starts with the removal of the east fa├žade and roof, along with the renovation of the seats below that same area. New seating bowls, concourses and a new lobby and entry plaza would result. The retractable roof (or operable roof panel, as noted in the design) is a great idea that would stress versatility and bring daylight to a currently dim stadium. Giant big screens or LEDs will align the marquee on the face of the new facility, displaying Sam Bradford and other players and allowing in-progress games to be viewed by Rams fans as they enter the stadium.

The current lease states the Rams can terminate in 2015, but only if the CVC allows the Edward Jones Dome to fall below a “first-tier” facility. It must be better than three-quarters of all NFL venues in 15 categories. If the Rams and the CVC can’t come to an agreement on stadium renovation plans and satisfying all lease requirements by June 15, then the matter is in the hands of an arbitrator, which may not be good for either side or, for that matter, Rams fans in St. Louis.

While there may seem to be a short-term downside, there is also a huge potential for economic growth that all Missourians can be very proud of once a top-flight facility is built. The bottom line is that this current stadium needs a major facelift, or else another one needs to be built, because this community can’t afford to lose another NFL team and millions of dollars in future revenue.