Rams' vision for Dome could cost $700 million

BY MATTHEW HATHAWAY
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

ST. LOUIS • When the Rams' plan for upgrading the Edward Jones Dome finally went public Monday, the gap between the team's vision and that of the agency in charge of the building became clear.

The Rams, not surprisingly, are calling for a more drastic — and expensive — renovation of the Dome than the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. A top aide to Mayor Francis Slay left no doubt how the plan would be received.

For starters, the Rams' proposal would cost more than $700 million, compared to the CVC's $124 million proposal, said Jeff Rainford, Slay's chief of staff. And the construction involved would cost some big downtown conventions, bleeding an additional $500 million from the local economy, he said.

The Rams' vision for the Dome — a 38-page renovation plan marked "confidential" several times — became public after it was released by the office of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

The plan is a counteroffer to the CVC's proposal earlier this year, which the Rams have rejected. The CVC plan proposed capping the public subsidy for renovations at $60 million, calling for the team to cover the rest.

The Rams' plan doesn't include a price tag, and it doesn't say how much, if any, the franchise is willing to contribute.

To come up with its own cost estimate, the CVC hired a construction firm, which landed on $700 million, according to Rainford.

The Rams' plan also does not spell out how long construction would take or where the team would play while the building is renovated. A source told the Post-Dispatch the team believes it would only miss one football season at the Dome.

The plan would maintain the Dome's regular-game capacity of about 66,000, but little else would stay the same. Highlights include:

• Tearing down the eastern half of the Dome and extending the building's footprint across Broadway and over Baer Plaza. The new eastern side would feature a large glass wall, similar to the glass wall at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The new dimensions would allow for wider concourses throughout the building.

• Adding a new roof that includes an "operable roof panel" that could slide open to bring more natural light in the Dome. The panel would be about the size of the playing field.

• Reconfiguring much of the existing seating to allow more flexibility for nonfootball events, including NCAA basketball games and pro soccer matches. (Rams owner Stan Kroenke also owns the Denver-based Colorado Rapids soccer team and the London-based Arsenal Football Club.)

• Adding two so-called "party platforms" to the end zones, which could be used for temporary seating for a Super Bowl or other events.

• Creating larger entrances at the northeast and southeast corners of the Dome, and adding an entrance in the middle of the eastern facade. Currently, only members of the media and special-needs customers are allowed to enter on the east side.

Neither the Rams nor the CVC would comment on Monday.

Talks about renovation were spurred by an escape clause in the Rams' 30-year lease of the Dome, which was built in 1995.

The team is in the 17th year of that contract, but it can terminate the lease in 2015 if the CVC fails to make the Dome a "first-tier" facility, or one that's better than three-quarters of all NFL venues in 15 categories. If the lease is terminated, the Rams could move out of St. Louis or continue at the Dome on a year-to-year basis.

The CVC has until June 1 to accept or reject the Rams' proposal. If a deal isn't struck by June 15, the two sides will go into arbitration, which could take until year's end.

Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who helped negotiate the lease in the 1990s for the Rams, said the plan unveiled Monday comes as close as possible to satisfying the first-tier language without calling for a new facility.

"This appears to be a logical, feasible plan that's meant to get a positive result," said Ganis, president of the Chicago-based SportsCorp, a consulting firm. "This isn't a pie-in-the-sky plan designed to get to an impasse ... It looks to me like a sincere effort to get a deal done."

Ganis, who said he has no current business relationship with the Rams or the CVC, said the team's plan is well-suited to the Dome's location. It's not a cookie-cutter plan, he said, and it would create "an iconic facility" for far less than the cost of a new one.

"A new stadium is going to cost well over $1 billion," he said. "This looks like it would be roughly half of what a new stadium would cost."

But Rainford, Slay's chief of staff, said his boss sees things differently. The mayor, who appoints five commissioners to the CVC board, will urge the commission to reject the Rams' proposal, Rainford said.

The three governments that paid to build the Dome — St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri — can't chip in an additional $700 million, he said. In addition, Rainford said, there's the cost of not being able to book large conventions inside the Dome.

The construction firm estimated that the renovation would take three years, wiping out conventions and costing the local hospitality industry $500 million, according to Rainford.

Rainford, though, didn't rule out eventually striking a deal with the team.

"My guess is Mr. Kroenke told his people to design a top-tier stadium," Rainford said. "But you can't look at this and draw the conclusion that he's flipping the bird to St. Louis and he is moving to Los Angeles."

That city frequently is mentioned as a destination for the Rams if negotiations with the CVC sour. Many of the more than 100 comments posted Monday on the Facebook page "Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams" giddily interpreted the Rams' plan as a sign the team soon would return to its former home.

Rainford said that's not going to happen anytime soon. The matter might end up in arbitration, he said, but that was expected all along.

"This region paid a pretty penny to bring the Rams here," Rainford said. "We're not going to give up on keeping the Rams in the Dome."

The Rams' plan was not publicly released at first. The team and CVC kept it under wraps, citing a confidentiality clause in the Dome lease. But the Rams sent the Missouri Office of Administration a copy of the plan because the state is a part-owner of the Dome. That copy is what Koster's office made public Monday.

The secrecy surrounding the "first-tier" process became a legal dispute this month, after the CVC and the Post-Dispatch filed lawsuits against each other over the release of documents related to the Dome renovation.

The Dome was largely financed with $256 million in bonds, and the repayment of that 30-year debt will be $720 million. Every year, Missouri spends $12 million to pay off the debt, and St. Louis and St. Louis County each pay $6 million.