The organization that runs the Edward Jones Dome has made it official: The facility will not get a publicly funded $700 million upgrade that the St. Louis Rams requested, possibly leaving the city without an NFL team for the second time in almost 30 years.
St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission President Kathleen Ratcliffe informed the Rams of the decision in a letter dated Tuesday.
The outcome was no surprise. After arbitrators ruled in favor of the Rams’ plan over a much more modest CVC proposal, the CVC said in February it was unlikely to implement the plan.
The Rams can now break their lease with the dome after the 2014 season. The team has been noncommittal about its plans, and its offices were closed Friday for the long Fourth of July holiday. A spokesman was unreachable. The former St. Louis Cardinals left for Arizona in 1987.
In a letter to Rams’ Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff, Ratcliffe said the CVC “is not in a position to commit to the St. Louis Rams LLC regarding the financing” of improvements to the 18-year-old dome.
“We remain committed to working with you as set forth in the terms of our Lease,” she wrote.
But Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said Friday that the Rams have been unwilling to engage in further negotiations. Rainford said Gov. Jay Nixon is personally working on the situation and that Nixon, city officials and leaders of the organizations that own and operate the dome agreed that the Rams’ plan was a “non-starter.”
“Everybody’s on the same page,” Rainford said. “It was a no-brainer. There was nobody in St. Louis who thought that the Rams proposal was a good idea, other than the Rams.”
In a statement released by his office later Friday, Nixon said he appreciates “the value of having two solid NFL franchises in the state of Missouri, with stable ownership in both St. Louis and Kansas City.”
“I will never forget the way both franchises stepped up to help the people of Joplin after the 2011 tornado, including building several new homes as part of the Governor’s Joplin Habitat Challenge,” Nixon added. “I look forward to hearing from the Rams about their long-term plans.”
Rainford cautioned against undue hand-wringing about the potential of losing the team, saying it’s way too early for speculation. Even when the lease expires, the Rams can continue playing at the dome on a year-to-year lease.
“The Rams are going to have to figure out what they want, and the taxpayers of the region and the state will consider what they’re willing to pay,” Rainford said.
Taxpayers are already footing the bill for the dome. Repayment for the 30-year bonds that financed it will total $720 million. The state of Missouri pays $12 million annually toward that debt; the city and St. Louis County pay $6 million each.
The unique 30-year lease with the Rams requires that the dome, which opened the year the Rams arrived from Los Angeles in 1995, remain among the top quarter of all NFL stadiums. To do that, the CVC last year proposed a new glass addition, outdoor terraces and a huge new scoreboard. The organization wanted the Rams to pay half the total price tag of under $200 million.
The Rams countered with a far more elaborate plan that included a sliding roof, reconfigured seating and other amenities. The Rams didn’t estimate the cost, but city officials said it would be at least $700 million.
With the sides so far apart, there is speculation the team might build a new stadium, perhaps in St. Louis County. It wasn’t clear if any negotiations have begun over that idea or how it would be funded.