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Government, Politics & Issues

Editor's Weekly: More Questions About The Rams

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(St. Louis Public Radio file photo)
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David Peacock.

Think what you will of the proposal to spend at least $860 million on a new football stadium, the announcement last week revealed a few telling things about St. Louis:

  • Community leaders can move quickly and creatively when something poses a threat to the region’s reputation.
  • Large pots of public and private money can be unearthed when people care deeply about a cause.
  • St. Louis’ Rams problems are generally treated as entirely separate from St. Louis’ Ferguson-related problems even though both involve the reputation and resources of our region.

All this raises some obvious questions. Don’t Ferguson-related problems pose a more fundamental threat to St. Louis’ future than the loss of an NFL team? Shouldn’t we address Ferguson-related problems with at least as much urgency and creativity as we direct toward the Rams? Can't we find as much money for Ferguson as we can for Stan Kroenke?
Yes, I know. The Ferguson Commission is already working urgently. Countless creative conversations have sprung up about Ferguson, virtual and face to face. Various businesses and others have already donated millions of dollars to solving Ferguson-related problems. And the stadium plan would require Kroenke to spend some money, too.

Still, our approach to Ferguson so far seems somehow squishier than the can-do certainty that permeated last week’s press conference about plans to keep the Rams. Then, former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock expressed confidence that we should and could build a stadium. He said he was working  to “position our city for where it deserves to be in people’s minds for 2020, and that’s our objective."

But it will be hard to reach that objective without coming to grips with the dominant images of St. Louis now in people’s minds around the world -- Michael Brown’s body on the pavement and confrontation in the streets.

To be sure, addressing Ferguson-related problems will be more complicated than keeping an NFL team here. Sports problems can usually be solved with money. Money alone won’t solve long-standing, race-related challenges in policing, criminal justice, schools, jobs and so on.

But money wouldn’t hurt, either. $860 million may not be enough, but it would be a good start.

Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Peacock and Bob Blitz to figure out how to keep the Rams without raising taxes. Couldn’t Nixon or the Ferguson Commission appoint two equally impressive financial wizards to find funding  for our more consequential civic problems?

Of course, there would be a fight over how to spend the money – just as there should be debate over whether to spend money on a new football stadium.

But the Ferguson Commission is well-positioned to kick off the discussion. After surveying the landscape of problems and possibilities, the commission should be able to assess needs, recommend priorities and identify who must and should be involved in making decisions.

The commission need not start from scratch. Others have laid the groundwork. For example, a wide-ranging study known as For The Sake of All laid out the impact of racial disparities in our region and made recommendations for how to address them. Early childhood education is a top priority.

True, there can be a groundswell of popular support for pro sports. We’ve never seen that kind of widespread enthusiasm for addressing issues of racial disparity. Yet both areas involve important regional questions. The stadium backers have demonstrated how to proceed when St. Louis’ reputation and prospects are at stake.

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