By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
05/30/2008


If St. Louis intends to meet its lease agreement by providing the Rams with a venue that ranks in the top 25 percent of the NFL by 2015, the city and the taxpayers must commit to building a state-of-the-art stadium. One in which the cost could hit 10 figures.

So says Convention and Visitors Commission Chairman Dan Dierdorf publicly, as do several other principals privately.

The NFL stadiums under construction in Indianapolis; Arlington, Texas; and East Rutherford, N.J., are "going to be the cream of the crop, and they're going to be no more than five or six years old" by 2015, Dierdorf said. "What do you do to a 20-year-old building to make it the equal of a brand-new $1 billion stadium?"

In 1995, the $281 million downtown dome now known as the Edward Jones Dome was at the cutting edge of stadium technology, as well as an integral part of a new convention center. Today, it's rapidly becoming antiquated in an era of new stadiums around the league.

The dome is undergoing $30 million in upgrades, including new video boards and an as-yet-undetermined way of getting more sunlight into the building. Those slightly tardy improvements will satisfy requirements to keep the dome in the top tier at the first 10-year segment of the 30-year lease.

Still, it appears that no amount of renovation, no matter how extravagant and expensive, could turn the dome into one of the top eight stadiums in the 32-team league by 2015, the 20th anniversary. If it isn't, the lease will be broken and the team will be free to consider moving.

That issue has gained new traction since the death in January of team owner Georgia Frontiere. Her son, Chip Rosenbloom, a Hollywood filmmaker, is the Rams' new managing partner and has vowed to keep the team here. Still, he acknowledged recently that he has "been approached by several people" inquiring about the team's availability.

OUT WITH OLD, IN WITH NEW

The newest NFL venues now under construction will be the 18th, 19th and 20th stadiums built since the Rams moved here from Los Angeles in '95. Several other stadiums have undergone significant renovation, some costing hundreds of millions of dollars, during that span.

"I don't think anybody could've imagined that the boom in stadium development would've happened," said Bob Wallace, the Rams' executive vice president and general counsel. "And you have to also remember that this stadium was designed in 1987, eight years before it was (completed). So it's 21 years old in terms of technology and innovation."

When the new stadiums go up, decisions must be made as to what happens with the old ones. In Indianapolis, the RCA Dome will be torn down and the space used to expand the city's convention center. Giants Stadium will become a parking lot. Texas Stadium also will be razed, and the area will be used for redevelopment.

The trend in the new stadiums is to add game-day glitz while also offering unique features in a building designed to be used far beyond the handful of days when its NFL team is on the field.

"We knew we had to build a facility that fans and corporations and sponsors would really identify with and enjoy being a part of," said Pete Ward, the Colts' senior executive vice president. "Obviously, if it works for your clients, it works for you."

Lucas Oil Stadium is in downtown Indianapolis just south of the RCA Dome, where the Colts have been playing since arriving from Baltimore in 1982. It will be completed in time for the Colts' regular season opener Sept. 7 at a final price tag of about $750 million.

Ward pointed out that when fans file into Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time, they will encounter an experience vastly different from the one at the RCA Dome.

They will traverse broader concourses. They will plop down into wider seats with added legroom. They will have many more, and varied, concession stands from which to choose. They will watch replays on massive high-definition video boards. They will have a panoramic view of downtown through a "window wall" that makes up nearly one full end of the building and on nice days, that wall can be opened, as can the retractable roof.

THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST

The Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington will debut in September 2009 at a cost of about $1 billion, and the $1.3 billion Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., which will be home to the Giants and the Jets, is scheduled for completion in August 2010.

The newest existing NFL venue, the 1.7 million-square-foot University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006, sits on a 165-acre plot in suburban Glendale, Ariz. In addition to increased amenities, including 310 permanent concession stands and seven club lounges, the stadium features both a retractable roof and a retractable field. The grass surface is kept outside, then rolled into the stadium for games "like a cake pan into the oven," team owner Bill Bidwill said.

University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in February. Super Bowls already have been awarded to Dallas (2011) and Indianapolis (2012).

In planning for new stadiums, cities and teams are striving to create the biggest and the best, as well as an individualized stamp for their particular setting.

"We create venues that only work for that specific team and that specific city," said Mark Williams of HKS Inc., the Dallas-based architectural firm that designed the new stadiums in Dallas and Indianapolis. "You can't pick up the Cowboys project and put it in St. Louis or Minneapolis. Same thing with the Colts project. If we built a stadium in St. Louis, it'd be one of a kind that only works for the Rams and only works for St. Louis."

Among the signature qualities of the Cowboys' new, 2.3-million-square-foot stadium, which in typical Texas fashion will be the largest NFL venue, is a bow to the past: The retractable roof is designed so that the famous "hole in the roof" at Texas Stadium can be re-created.

"The challenge for us was to innovate, but at the same time never forget to acknowledge tradition," team owner Jerry Jones said in explaining the blueprint. "What we've designed is a building we believe is both architecturally significant and also reflects the emotion and competition that goes on inside."

A unique feature of the stadium in East Rutherford is the "Great Wall," a 400-foot-long, 40-foot-high structure outside the building that will contain murals of former players and important moments in the teams' history. Inside, the color scheme will be able to be changed, depending on whether the Giants or Jets are playing.

ONE STADIUM, MANY PURPOSES

Because the monetary investment has become so staggering, additional-use plans also are at the top of stadium wish lists.

"These facilities are so much more than just a place to play nine or 10 football games a year and then sit for 355 days," Williams said. "The teams and cities are looking for extremely diverse venues that can be utilized for a myriad of programmed events."

Ward said Indianapolis "needed a multipurpose facility to meet the obligations of the NCAA and the convention business. We'll have well over 200 events a year in the new stadium."

The NCAA headquarters are in Indianapolis, which is in the regular rotation of men's and women's Final Four sites. Recently, Lucas Oil Stadium was designated as the permanent backup site should another city have to back out of its Final Four commitment.

Four restaurants are included in the East Rutherford project. In Dallas, the suites and lounges were planned for regular use throughout the year. Williams said he expects to attract to the stadium everything from business meetings to family celebrations to "a Christmas party in this venue in lieu of going to the hotel down the street."

Beyond all the frills and the expanded uses, enhancing the atmosphere for NFL fans who are paying dearly for the experience is paramount, the Rams' Wallace stressed.

"Everybody understands the price of tickets continues to go up, so you have to provide more value for your customers," he said. "That's what everybody is trying to do.