Asking for the moon
Thanks to a spectacularly bad lease negotiated by St. Louis pols, the Rams have the right to a “top tier” stadium as long as they stay near the Gateway Arch. This week, St. Louis found out just what “top tier” (top eight) means. The City gulped and tabulated just how much it’ll cost for the Rams to stay there: $500-750 million.
A PDF of the proposal was acquired by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It’s worth viewing if you want to follow along with the rest of the post. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission put together its own $124 million proposal (PDF), which mostly touts the incremental improvements that have been made over the past several years.
Mind you, that won’t pay for an entirely new stadium. Instead, two-thirds of the Edward Jones Dome would be blown out, including the roof. Only parts of the upper deck and one side of concourses would remain. The field would be moved slightly to accommodate new seating, and completely new seating decks and concourses would be built in the other two-thirds of the stadium.
Edward Jones Dome sits in a very tight block in downtown St. Louis, hemmed in by the America’s Center convention facility to the west and N. Broadway to the east. Expanding the footprint of the stadium would wipe out N. Broadway, which happens to be half of a major thoroughfare. The extra space consumed by the fattened stadium would be used for new team locker rooms and premium amenities. The cross-section of the stand looks a little too much like Mt. Davis for my liking, especially the enormous upper deck. Field suites and field level clubs are a must-have.
Amazingly, the Rams’ proposal doesn’t include either a retractable roof or a Dallas-style center-hung scoreboard. The roof will have a panel that can slide open to let in more light, like a sunroof on a car. New scoreboards would be placed in the corners, replacing the end zone scoreboards that are not even three years old. I’m surprised by this. The team has the city over a barrel. They’re already asking for the moon, why not get some asteroids on the side while you’re at it?
I’ve never seen a game in person at the Trans World/America’s Center/Russell Athletic/Edward Jones Dome, so I can’t directly speak to how good a stadium it is. I’ve heard the field is poorly lit for some reason. I know it can get very loud inside. The concourses are wide, and the amenities fairly plush, befitting a $280 million stadium built in the mid-90′s. The top tier clause allows the Rams to escape the Gateway City after the 2014 season, which means the race is on to figure out a solution, or else owner Stan Kroenke could easily look elsewhere – like LA. The only thing that may give Kroenke pause is AEG’s insistence that it get a minority share of any relocated franchise in exchange for building the downtown LA stadium. Regardless, LA poses a significant threat, even though Kroenke is a born-and-bred Missourian.
The Rams don’t quite have the Mayflower trucks at the loading docks yet. Their proposal and one from the CVC will go to arbitration in the next year or so. Whatever the arbiter decides is the winning proposal, the County will have the option to commit to that package of improvements. If they do, the Rams will be locked in through at least 2025. If not, the Rams will have those trucks idling and ready to go.
As large and unnecessary as the Rams’ proposal sounds, it would be at best a top-four NFL stadium, surpassed technically by Cowboys Stadium and MetLife Stadium, and the AEG stadium if that comes to fruition. EJD and the Georgia Dome (1992) kicked off the boom era of new NFL stadia construction, so it’s not surprising that both were the first to be considered outdated by the league.
My question about any kind of NFL stadium expenditure, as usual, is How can anyone justify the cost? Let’s say that the project costs $700 million. Over 30 years at 7%, that’s $52 million per year in debt service. To make it worthwhile, the Rams and St. Louis would have to get an additional $100 million in new direct revenue every year. The stadium will compete with other domes for Final Fours and will continue to function as an extension of America’s Center, so that helps a bit. But most of the steady revenue will come from football games and related activities. To put it in perspective, the Rams are 30th among the 32 franchises in revenue at $228 million in 2011, according to Forbes. If they get another $100 million and apply it to 2011, they would catapult to #4 in the league, ahead of both New York teams. Does that seem likely, given the tiny St. Louis market and the Rams’ second banana status within the market? I doubt it.