Updated at 4:30 p.m.
A 64,000-seat open-air NFL stadium constructed on St. Louis' riverfront could be the new home of the Rams -- or another NFL team -- by 2020, according to preliminary plans announced Friday.
A task force appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon unveiled the renderings and further details on possible funding for a new facility just days after Rams' owner Stan Kroenke revealed a partnership to build an 80,000 seat stadium in Los Angeles County.
Task force member and former Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock said while there's a "healthy sense of urgency" behind the project, it's not due to Kroenke's plans.
"Our urgency is not not driven by anything that’s going on in another market," he said. "Our urgency is not driven by Los Angeles or anywhere else for that matter. Our urgency is driven by the fact that we build a stadium for our fans and community...and be a community and public asset. There is an imperative, as we started the Arch Grounds as an impetus to continue this great work and position our city for where it deserves to be in people’s minds for 2020 and that’s our objective."
The new St. Louis stadium would create no new tax burden on residents as required by Nixon, Peacock said. Instead, the $860 million-$985 million price tag would be funded through a combination of: private funding, a possible extension of the current bond paying for the Edward Jones Dome, some support from the Missouri Development Finance Board, brownfield tax credits for environmental remediation, and seat license proceeds.
The 90-acre site would be developed along the Mississippi River adjacent to Laclede's Landing, just north of the Gateway Arch and just south of the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Eighty-nine percent of the area, which includes several publicly owned parcels, has been described as blighted. That keeps with Nixon's goal that an area would be redeveloped that otherwise not see revitalization but for a new stadium.
"The new stadium and its surrounding complex will be a crown jewel of this reinvention of our city center and as a a continuation of the redevelopment efforts you see at the Arch grounds, Ball Park Village, and our frankly fairly new baseball stadium, Washington Avenue, as well as right here in Union Station," Peacock said.
The plan includes 10,439 parking spaces, as well as riverfront trails, green space, an entertainment district and other recreational amenities to "take the feel of CityArchRiver and bring that north in our city," Peacock said. The nearby landmark Union Electric Ashley Street Power House would also be preserved. The new stadium would be owned by a public entity, preliminarily identified as the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.
Peacock said stadium construction, to be completed by 2020, would create 5,000 jobs over the course of four years and retain 2,400 game-day jobs from the Rams' current home at the Edward Jones Dome. Renovations to turn the stadium into a full-time convention center would be included in the new stadium financing.
By freeing up that facility, Peacock said the area could draw in as much as $20 million in economic activity in the fall months.
"We bring the Rams out of the Dome and that is now a competitive asset for us to use," Peacock said. "That Dome gets heavy utilization outside the Rams season and makes us more competitive for meetings."
Being an open air stadium would also offer the opportunity to sublet its field to a Major League Soccer team. Peacock said the task force has met with MLS officials about the league's potential for growth in the market. He also said the 30,000 lower bowl seats in the new stadium would easily accommodate MLS games with lower attendance.
Rams could leave
Though the NFL says no teams will relocate during the 2015 season, the Rams could leave in the near future. That's because the team's original lease on the Edward Jones Dome required that the facility remain in top 25 percent of football stadiums in the country. City leaders rejected an arbitration-approved ask by the Rams for a $700 million upgrade to the Dome, giving Kroenke the out with league approval.
Peacock said the current plan is "apples and oranges" compared with the Rams' earlier demand which he said was primarily funded through public money.
"(The offer was) retrofitting a building, but having no positive impact on a blighted area or bringing the incremental opportunity for soccer, or opening up that convention center and giving us two assets instead of one," he said.
He also said the previous offer would only have added 10 years to the Dome's viability, versus the new plan's call for a 30-year market lease.
While task force member Bob Blitz said it will be "hopefully the Rams," the plans call for whatever NFL team plays there to contribute $200 to $250 million to the new stadium's construction. Another $200 million would come from the NFL's G4 program.
Peacock said he first met with NFL officials in November, before meeting with Kroenke and league executives. But he said he hasn't heard any reaction from Kroenke to the plans. Other officials say they haven't spoken to him recently either.
"This is not about the owner of the Rams. This is St. Louis' team," Peacock said. "Owners own the franchise, but the fan base and the popularity and the passion behind that team, it’s owned by the fan base. It’s our team guys, support the team.
Shortly after the announcement, the Rams released the following statement:
The St. Louis Rams have worked for many years, with several agencies and commissions, and their senior management, responsible for stadium facilities in St. Louis. This includes multiple discussions with the Governor’s recently formed NFL Task Force. We received the Task Force materials shortly before the press conference. We will review them and speak with the Task Force representatives.
The NFL requires a team to first exhaust all options regarding its stadium before being able to relocate. League rules also say a team cannot move simply to boost revenues.
Reactions to stadium plans
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay – who was briefed on the plan on Thursday -- is an unabashed backer of the task force’s proposal.
“This looks like a very exciting plan,’’ the mayor said in a telephone interview. “It looks to be viable. It’s been very well thought out.’’
Slay said city development experts don’t expect it will be difficult to acquire the rest of the land needed for the proposed stadium site. The city already owns about 25 percent. He declined to say publicly how much officials expect to spend to acquire the rest of the property.
The mayor emphasized that the proposal doesn’t rely on any next taxes. Aside from extending the construction bond payments used to finance the Edward Jones Dome, the plan calls for private money to make up almost half of the $900 million needed for a new stadium.
Another sizable amount would come from “game-day experience revenue,’’ including a new version of the PSLs (personal seat licenses) sold to raise money for the dome. Purchasers then obtained the right to buy Rams season tickets. A part of the parking fees also might be designated for construction costs.
Slay noted that the proposal would take years to complete. “This process is very long and complicated,’’ he said.
He also emphasized that the proposal’s objective isn’t just about the Rams.
“We love the Rams. We want to keep them here,’’ Slay said. “But whether or not that occurs, we want to position ourselves to remain an NFL city. We want to be attractive to other teams.”
Meanwhile, reaction from other top public officials appears to be supportive, but careful. No one wants to appear to be endorsing any sort of general tax increase to build a new stadium.
A spokesman for new St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said he wanted to examine the Rams' proposal in more detail before offering specific comments. But the spokesman, Cordell Whitlock, emphasized some general points.
Stenger "is an accountant,'' Whitlock said. "He wants to make sure we're not selling our soul to get a football team." Whitlock added, "Any deal must make economic sense. No matter what course of action we choose to take, the decision has to be in the best interest of St. Louis County residents."
Nixon issued a statement thanking Peacock and Blitz for their work minutes before the task force unveiled the proposal.
"As governor, my primary responsibility is to the taxpayers of our state, which is why I’m pleased that this proposal would impose no new tax burden on Missourians and require significant private investment in developing an asset owned by the public," he said in the statement. "This proposal would not only protect St. Louis’s status as an NFL city, it would also provide the opportunity to redevelop underutilized areas of the city and create jobs. I spoke with Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this week and will continue to communicate with the NFL regarding our efforts and the league's support. As this process moves forward, we will remain committed to our core principles of protecting taxpayers, creating jobs and revitalizing communities.”
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