Rams settlement deal wins approval from Dome board, despite some grumbling
Members of a board that oversees the Dome at America’s Center gave their unanimous approval Wednesday to the division of a $519 million settlement over the departure of the St. Louis Rams.
It’s a move that primarily places the ball in the court of elected officials on how to spend the money, which some members of the panel, widely known as the RSA, wanted to avoid.
Under a tentative agreement, the RSA was required to sign off on how to divide the funds. Here’s how the money will be split up:
- St. Louis gets $280 million, with $30 million being dedicated to bolstering the Downtown Convention Center. If the Board of Aldermen doesn’t move on allocating that money by next year, the $30 million would go to the RSA.
- St. Louis County receives $169 million.
- The RSA gets $70 million, funds that will likely go toward maintaining the Dome. Since the Rams' departure, the Dome has been regularly used for conventions, sporting events and concerts.
Unlike funds governments have received from the federal COVID-19 relief bill, the Rams settlement money has no restrictions on how city and county leaders can spend it. There's also no restrictions on when the money can be spent.
In a joint statement from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and RSA Chairman Earl Nance, the three parties stated they “have come together in the spirit of collaboration to reach an agreement for how these settlement funds have been distributed.”
Earlier this week, Jones said she was looking forward to working with city policymakers to “begin a deliberate, careful process to figure out where we should use these funds for the most long-term transformative impact.”
During a press conference earlier Wednesday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he expected the county’s portion of the funds to arrive in January.
“And then we’ll sit down with the council and figure out how much of this we want to put into a rainy day fund or a savings or an endowment – and if we want to put any of it to work in the county,” Page said. “But that’s a conversation we’ll have. We’ll have the conversation with folks in the county and other stakeholders and the county council.”
Disappointment over dismissal of endowment idea
Several state-appointed members of the RSA wanted to bank much of the money into something resembling an endowment and then use the interest to pay for regional initiatives that benefit St. Louis and St. Louis County.
RSA members Joseph Blanner and Dave Spence pitched that idea as a way to stretch the funds further and not waste the money on closing budgetary shortfalls.
But detractors felt that such a proposal took decision-making power away from elected officials. And they pointed out that the State of Missouri places restrictions on how municipal and county money can be invested.
“I think it was a part of our belief that we should allow the city and county to make their own decisions on how to spend that money,” Nance said after the meeting.
After voting in favor of the plan, Spence said he abandoned the endowment idea when it became clear it didn’t have enough support.
“I just think that we didn't see a pathway to victory,” Spence said. “We've been steadfast from the very get-go that we should get maximum return on investment, and that these funds are to be put aside. But there was no willingness on either administration to even entertain that discussion. And sometimes you do things for the greater good. And that's why we voted yes.”
Spence said he hoped that the city and county would put the money to good use.
“It should be used for a multiyear, generational impact,” Spence said. “It should not fill budget holes. It should not be for deferred maintenance. It should go into things that improve our community.”
Nance said he was confident that city and county policymakers would be prudent in spending the Rams settlement funds. He also said the $70 million for the Dome will be beneficial to the community.
“You got the XFL coming in here, and there are some issues we have to deal with,” Nance said. “You have the possibility of putting on a new roof, just a whole lot of maintenance issues and operation issues that need to be taken care of. So we know exactly where our money needs to go.”
Page said county policymakers will “listen to all the ideas that come forward.”
“I appreciate the RSA’s suggestions,” Page said. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of suggestions. And we have plenty of time to talk about it.”