Rams could get new stadium and city could upgrade dome

As Stan Kroenke and the St. Louis Rams move toward a new stadium in the St. Louis area, there are many hurdles to overcome, and a lot of creative ideas to be thrown around. The cost of a new edifice and how it will be financed is the key part of the equation, but how a new stadium interacts with the Edward Jones Dome can also play a role, and should play a role, in how the situation unfolds.

The presence of a retractable roof would seem to dramatically increase the cost of a new stadium, but either way it’s going to be expensive. The most recent outdoor stadium, Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is the most expensive ever built in the United States. The total cost was $1.6 billion, with public infrastructure costs of another $250 million. Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, which opened the same year and has a retractable roof, cost $1.194 billion. And the fabulous retractable roof Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which opened a year before Met Life and Cowboys Stadiums, cost $720 million.

I would think the Rams, wanting what COO Kevin Demoff has called a “global solution” to the stadium issue, would be amenable to building an outdoor facility if it meant St. Louis could still pursue NCAA Final Fours, a college bowl game, and other special events. Realistically, that would require a significant upgrade of the Edward Jones Dome whether the Rams played there or not.

Our Dome had the 2005 Final Four, and it’s the reason that the NCAA has awarded its championship weekend through 2016 without St. Louis appearing again. Atlanta, which hosted the 2007 Final Four, has this year’s. Cowboys Stadium will host its first in 2014. Then Indianapolis will add to its 2006 and 2010 Final Fours by hosting in 2015. Reliant Stadium in Houston will become a repeat host in 2016, after doing so in 2011.

The 2005 Final Four, according to the St. Louis Sports commission, generated $71.9 million in economic impact. Getting back into that rotation would be huge. Add that to what the city claims it will get from being able to recruit conventions year round, rather than just February-July, and it should be a windfall for St. Louis and the CVC. Jeff Rainford, Chief of Staff or St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, is on record as saying the city would lose $500 million in convention revenue if dome refurbishments would close it for three years. That means that in six months of convention activity annually, the city is raking in about $166 million. With the Rams gone and six more months of conventions, that amount would theoretically be doubled to $333 million per year in convention revenue. That’s obviously well above the $24 million in debt service paid on the building by the city, county and state each year. If they can get rid of the Rams, upgrading the dome, ironically, should be a no brainer.

That bonanza would allow the city to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome and allow the city to recruit premier events without the hassle of waiting for the Rams schedule coming out until April of each year. It’s reasonable that the CVC doesn’t want the Rams. It’s the CONVENTION and visitors commission. They pursue conventions. And normally that pursuit takes three years. Without knowing what fall weekends will be available, the CVC can’t go after weekend conventions between August and January.

An upgrade would help the CVC get better conventions, and also eliminate the need for the Rams to build a retractable roof stadium. They, along with the NFL, could save some money on stadium costs, build an arena with substantial parking (and profitability), and the ability to compete with the Dome for great summer events. But the Dome would be the sole pursuer of big winter events like bowl games, big indoor events such as Final Fours and winter concerts (although the acoustics are a problem) and other things that require a roof.

A new outdoor facility would put St. Louis in play for some things we can’t get right now. For example, in 2013, Taylor Swift is going to conduct a summer concert tour to 45 cities in North America. Nine of those venues will be Ford Field in Detroit, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Rogers Centre in Toronto, Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and Soldier Field in Chicago. Kenny Chesney will have another summer tour in 2013, going to thirteen U.S. Stadiums like Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Cowboys Stadium, FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Arrowhead Stadium and more. Tours that have made sporadic trips to Busch Stadium in recent years would be reasonable, fair game for St. Louis on an annual basis.

Another idea is MLS Soccer. Kroenke could bring it to St. Louis to fill seventeen dates at a new stadium. Because of league rules that have teams centrally owned by the league, he could own multiple teams. Clark Hunt, for example, owns FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew. In 2003, Los Angeles based Anschutz Entertainment Group had an interest in SIX teams; the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and New York Red Bulls. Right now, Hunt and Anschutz each own two teams. This is because each team has an owner-operator that is a shareholder in the league. In order to control costs, the league shares revenues, negotiates player contracts, and holds players contracts instead of players contracting with individual teams.

So Kroenke could make an outdoor stadium work like Robert Kraft has in Foxborough or the way Dan Snyder has in Washington. Realistically, there isn’t a way for Kroenke to keep his current percentage ownership of the Rams if the NFL would allow the franchise to leave town.

I’ve been told there’s a “one in a million chance” of the Rams going to L.A. There are a lot of ideas floating around, and the conclusion will likely include some of these ideas. But until the people in charge of our community want to make the region as great as the people running the Rams do, by spending money to upgrade their own house, it’s going to be tough to get anything done.