Burwell: Donít waste time on stadium bickering
1 hour ago ē By BRYAN BURWELL
Every once in a while I wish I could invoke what I like to call the ďdigital recorder ruleĒ to real life. That would be the imaginary power that allows us to hit the fast-forward button on some maddeningly laborious process and cut right to the chase.
So right now Iím reaching for that imaginary remote control because I desperately want to skip past all the interminable thumb-twiddling and blur past the annoying piles of bureaucratic bunk weíve been subjected to with the endless fretting over the Ramsí future here in St. Louis. If weíre lucky, the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the Edward Jones Dome, will spare us any further aggravation and quickly accelerate the next phase in these talks.
Donít drag this out for another minute, much less another day. Just do what everyone knows you want to to: reject the $700 million plan to renovate the Dome, step aside and let someone who actually cares ó someone who honestly has a vision about the regionís future ó take charge of the negotiations.
One way or another, Stan Kroenke is going to get a new stadium for his Rams to play in. So can we put someone in the room who can make that happen as quickly as possible? Can we put someone (or several people) in the room who has the clout politically, the mind financially and the vision creatively to execute this complicated, but important process?
No one said itís going to be easy. No one said it wonít require the deft touch of a smooth operator. No one said it wonít be like wrestling a political bear or navigating through financial minefield to put together the human resources and imagination to find the right mix of private and public finances.
But it can be done.
So letís hope the CVC acts as quickly as the arbitration panel did in identifying what the city needs to do to provide St. Louis with a first-class venue that can attract Super Bowls, Final Fours and other big-ticket sports events to the city. Then we can let these earnest folks at the CVC get on with the business of bringing to the grossly outdated Dome all those tractor pulls, marching band competitions and ďbag-lunchĒ type conventions that the CVC seems to think are infinitely more important keys to a thriving downtown revitalization than a National Football League franchise.
Because as we all know, the NFL is a failing business as evidenced by Sundayís Super Bowl, which drew an enormous TV audience and generated on-the-spot ad sales at $4 million a pop to fill in the void when the lights went out in the New Orleans Superdome for over a half hour.
Yes, the NFL has always been bad business for most American cities, because itís not like anyone is fighting to get a Super Bowl or anything, right?
But I canít blame the CVC for thinking this way, since itís in the business of thinking small. So let the good folks at the CVC reject the arbitration decision and move off the point in these negotiations with the Rams and put someone with a real vision for the regionís future in charge.
Letís get all the right people in the room who not only want to build a new stadium that can land St. Louis a Super Bowl, but understand what the value of that sort of venue can mean to a city.
The Rams have already made it clear that they want to stay in St. Louis. Go back and listen to the interview team president Kevin Demoff did with me last month. He didnít try to be cute. He didnít tap dance. He said the Rams want to put together a deal that will keep them in St. Louis for the next 40 years.
The Rams are not talking about Los Angeles now, and that has a lot to do with the simple fact that they still have two years left on their current lease, the stadium issue in LA is still unresolved and I doubt that Kroenke wants to give up a slice of his ownership to any potential ownership group in Southern California.
Besides, the NFL does enjoy keeping Los Angeles in play as leverage for any frustrated owner who is trying to work out a new stadium deal, and right now there are at least six NFL owners including Kroenke who fit tha description (Atlanta, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Oakland and San Diego). But here in St. Louis, we know right now that for the time being, LA is a negotiating chip and nothing more threatening than that.
But itís wise to know that a negotiating chip can become a more serious threat if protracted negotiations Ė a St. Louis politcal staple Ė string things out so long and cause such rotten circumstances that Los Angeles could become a far more appealing alternative for relocation.
So letís get someone in the room who understands the business. Letís get someone in the room who knows how to do what San Francisco, Minneapolis and Green Bay have already done. The NFLís G-4 loan program has been in effect for more than a year and currently two teams have received grants Ė the San Francisco ***** received a $200 million grant last February for construction of a new stadium in Santa Clara and the Green Bay Packers received $58 million as part of a renovation project for Lambeau Field last October. Itís also expected that the Minnesota Vikings will get a $200 million loan for a new $975 million stadium this year.
To get that G-4 money for a new construction, an owner has to put up no less than $250 million of his own money. In Minneapolis, for example, Vikings owner Ziggy Wilf has already put up $477 million for a $975 million stadium project. Naming rights fees will foot another substantial chunk ($10 million a year), as will the $200 million from the G-4 loan and seat licensing deals. There will be public financing as well, including money from a state-wide lottery.
It wasnít an easy deal to get done, and getting a similar deal done here in St. Louis will have huge political hurdles to overcome beginning with the substantial population of voters who are against public financing for any sports venues. They are a loud and constant voice.
But to assume that theyíre the only voice out there would be just plain myopic.