|01-14-2013, 11:49 AM||Topic Starter|
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A new stadium for the St. Louis Rams?
Rams moving to the Burbs?
A new stadium for the St. Louis Rams?
An ocean of broken concrete stretches from the interstate to the hills at the demolished Chrysler plant in Fenton. A lone road splits the 300-acre lot, surrounded by thousands of parking spaces.
Twenty miles north, an equivalent swath of land, but filled with corn fields and muddy roads, reaches from the new extension of Highway 141 toward the Missouri River in Maryland Heights.
And another 20 miles east from there, empty lots just north of the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis sit waiting for tailgaters.
Those are good images to keep in mind as the St. Louis Rams enter arbitration this week over the Dome. The three sites have long been discussed as possible homes for a new stadium — maybe even one for the Rams.
The team and the public agency that runs the Dome, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, have been at a stalemate for months over renovations required by the team’s 30-year lease.
Monday, three arbitrators will begin to hammer out answers. They will choose between three alternatives: the CVC’s renovation proposal, valued at least at $124 million; the Rams’ much pricier option; or a plan the arbitrators create themselves.
The arbitration, however, is likely just a guidepost in the process. If CVC leaders find the end result too expensive, they could let the Rams’ lease go year-to-year beginning in 2015. If the Rams find the renovations too minimal, they could buy their way out.
And that opens the doors for new ideas, new places — and a new stadium.
A top Rams executive has already indicated that, while the team wants to stay in the region, it isn’t set on the Dome.
Teams in the National Football League have largely built in the suburbs in recent years. The Dallas Cowboys erected a $1.2 billion stadium in Arlington. The New York Giants and Jets built a $1.6 billion complex in New Jersey. And the San Francisco 49ers are moving out of the storied Candlestick Park to a $1 billion stadium in Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara, ready by 2014.
St. Louis County real estate agents, banks and government officials are ready for such a move here. The county’s economic development agency periodically fields vague inquiries from developers looking for sports and entertainment venue sites — most recently, this past November.
Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock has heard such rumors for years. He can picture a football stadium at the bulldozed Chrysler plant in his city. It’s not necessarily his first choice, and developers are already “looking very seriously” at the site for other, undisclosed purposes, he said.
But Hancock wouldn’t turn down a stadium.
“If, in fact, the Rams are looking to build a new stadium, there are not many sites in the region that would be better than that site,” he said last week. “It would be a great location.”
St. Louis city leaders hope the Rams and the CVC can come to terms. Or, alternatively, they point out that the empty lots of the Bottle District, just north of the Dome, could be made to serve.
Rams executives won’t talk about their intentions.
A few things, however, are clear. Rams owner Stan Kroenke generally likes owning his teams’ stadiums. He owns the Pepsi Center, in Denver, where his Nuggets play basketball and his Avalanche play hockey. And his English soccer team, Arsenal, built its own grounds.
The renovations he’s requesting for the Dome approach the cost of a new stadium. And they still wouldn’t solve one of the team’s thorniest problems: the Rams don’t own any of the surrounding parking lots.
PARKING IS KING
Baseball lovers fill restaurants and pack downtown bars before games. NFL devotees, on the other hand, seek wide-open parking lots for trailers, coolers, barbecues, space to throw — and thousands of their brethren around them.
“Tailgating,” said NFL senior vice president Greg Aiello, “is one of the great traditions in football.”
Mark Lamping, the former Anheuser-Busch and St. Louis Cardinals executive, said that was foremost on his mind when he was tapped to build the new MetLife Stadium for the Giants and Jets.
The stadium’s owners wanted centrally located land with easy access to roads and public transportation. They sought to control the property. And they looked for enough space for tailgating. A downtown atmosphere, with bars and restaurants surrounding the stadium, wasn’t the fans’ first priority.
“They love to tailgate,” Lamping said. “So building a stadium in an urban setting would never work.”
Tailgating lengthens the day and minimizes the importance of the game result, Lamping said. A losing game, then, doesn’t necessarily equal an unhappy fan. Moreover, it binds the fans to their teams.
“When you go to Jets and Giants games, you’re surrounded by thousands having the same experience,” Lamping said. “If, on the other hand, you’re tailgating in the third level of a parking garage, with five or six cars around you ...”
All of this provides millions of dollars a year in extra revenue for team owners — 20,000 fans paying $25 a spot brings in $500,000 in one game alone, not to mention the accompanying jerseys, flags and paraphernalia.
Urban facilities are often squeezed into a couple dozen acres. The Cowboys’ new home, by comparison, is on 135 acres; the Giants’ and Jets’ is on 350 acres. And while the 49ers’ Santa Clara stadium is on 40 acres, the team is working to cobble together surrounding lots totaling 21,000 parking spots — spots the 49ers would control.
The issue is critical now, as more municipal leaders balk at paying the millions needed to raise new buildings, and passing tax issues is a shaky proposition.
Cowboys Stadium is more than 60 percent privately funded. For Santa Clara, 88 percent of the funding came from private money. Metlife, as well as a proposed downtown Los Angeles Stadium, are both 100 percent privately funded.
A relatively new NFL stadium construction program has helped. Now called G-4, it loans up to $200 million for certain stadium projects, and allows them to be paid back largely via game day revenue, such as season-ticket fees. It requires a “public-private” partnership, and bars a team’s relocation.
In St. Louis, the $300 million Dome opened in 1995. It was paid for largely via public money — the city, county and state still pay $24 million a year to retire construction bond debt, estimated to crest at $720 million.
And it has no on-site parking.
‘WE’D SELL IN A HEARTBEAT’
The lots north of the Dome are pocked with broken concrete, brick and glass. Yet they overrun with tailgaters before every home game. Private parking lots scattered around downtown also fill with lawn chairs and coolers, separated from each other by streets or even blocks.
“People will tailgate anywhere,” Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, said in an interview last week. Yet the Rams, he said, don’t control any of that parking, and get none of the revenue.
Demoff declined to discuss the lease agreement. But in a previous interview with the Post-Dispatch’s Bryan Burwell for the “Upon Further Review” online broadcast, Demoff said the Rams’ priority was to get a “first-class facility that makes St. Louis a destination for top-tier sporting events.”
“I want to ease people’s concerns about where we’re going to play within St. Louis over the next 20, 30, 40 years,” Demoff said. “That’s really the way we’re looking at this.”
The Rams’ proposal for the Dome calls for tearing down half the building, extending its footprint across Broadway and adding a large glass wall. It would add a playing-field-sized sliding roof and reconfigured seating.
The CVC’s proposal suggests a new glass addition, outdoor terraces, renovated suites and new club seats and lounges. The two-sided, center-hung scoreboard would become four-sided. The CVC wants the Rams to kick in half of the cost.
If the arbitrators rule in the CVC’s favor, the public expense could be covered by raising taxes on game day revenue, such as tickets or parking. If more tax dollars are needed, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley have said they would push for a public vote.
If the two sides can’t reach a deal, talks could push to a new stadium.
Doug Rasmussen, senior vice president at the St. Louis County Economic Council, says the county has a pact with the city not to steal projects. Still, sometimes vague requests come in.
In November, he said, a bank called looking for land for a “large entertainment and sports complex,” Rasmussen said. “Could be a soccer field. Could be anything,” Rasmussen said. “They were pretty cagey.”
Rasmussen identified two sites with immediate potential: The old Chrysler plant in Fenton. And the hundreds of acres of farmland stretching south from Interstate 270 down the new Highway 141 extension in Maryland Heights.
Hancock, the Fenton mayor, said that, without a specific plan, he couldn’t say much about a stadium on the Chrysler lot. He noted, however, that the land is prepped to go. “You don’t have to bring in bulldozers and level hillsides,” he said.
Maryland Heights city planner Michael Zeek said the city’s comprehensive plan could allow a stadium in several spots near 141. “It’s always kinda been kicked around for this area,” he said.
Jeffrey Hawley, president of Block Hawley Commercial Real Estate, represents 110 acres for sale there. “We’d sell it in a heartbeat,” he said. “Everybody would.”
Some St. Louis leaders, though, are still eyeballing the broken lots of the 17-acre Bottle District north of the Dome. Maybe an Indianapolis-style stadium could grow there, without impacting the day-to-day convention operations in the Dome, they say.
Each potential site, however, has its own challenges. The suburban sites may sit on highways, but would still need major road renovations. Even then, they wouldn’t have access to the public transportation available downtown.
The Bottle District, on the other hand, is largely land-locked, surrounded by housing and highway. It wouldn’t solve the Rams’ parking needs, at least not by itself.
Jeff Rainford, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff, wants the Rams to stay downtown.
But if the team finds a new home and stays in the region, he said, that’s a good second option.