CHICAGO - Missouri officials made their pitch Friday to keep the St. Louis Rams in town, unveiling plans for an open-air, nearly $1 billion National Football League stadium partially financed with borrowing.
The $860 million to $985 million project relies on between $300 million and $350 million raised through some form of refinancing or extension of the bonds issued to finance the Rams' current venue, the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
The state, St. Louis, and St. Louis County together pay $20 million annually to cover debt service and $4 million for maintenance on the dome bonds. The city and county tap hotel and motel taxes to cover their share. The bonds mature in 2021.
Gov. Jay Nixon and the task force he appointed to look at the options of either renovating the dome or building a new stadium sought to highlight the public benefits of the proposal.
"There are ways to source public financing and do it with the same or less burden on the taxpayers," task force member David Peacock said at a news conference.
Nixon said in a statement he was "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."
"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," Nixon said.
Release of the task force plan followed the Monday news that team owner Stan Kroenke planned to construct a privately financed 80,000-seat football stadium in southern California as part of a larger mixed-use development with Stockbridge Capital Group. The team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1994. The NFL won't consider any relocation requests until 2016.
The 64,000-seat stadium plan from the Nixon task force led by Peacock and Bob Blitz relies on at least a $200 million contribution from the team that would be matched through an NFL program. Private seat licenses could generate about $130 million and tax credits through the Missouri Development Finance Board and would qualify under federal Brownfields designation for redevelopment tax credits that could raise as much as $50 million.
The task force settled on a downtown St. Louis site on the Mississippi River that officials said is blighted and ripe for development. It would include parking and green space. Officials hope to begin site acquisition later this year although the city already owns some parcels and complete the project by 2020. The project would create 5,000 jobs related to construction and keep 2,400 day-of-game jobs in the city, they said.
The dome could be retrofitted to host additional conventions during the NFL season further bolstering the local economy. Peacock said the stadium could also potentially host a Major League Soccer team and that he has held discussions with league officials on the issue.
The stadium would be publicly owned but revenue sharing with the team would be subject to negotiation. Peacock said no decisions were made on who would benefit from a naming rights deal.
Peacock stressed the aim is to keep the Rams and he believes the proposal offers the best shot at showing a solid offer is on the table. He added that NFL bylaws don't allow teams to simply move in order to generate more profits. The league and team have a copy of the plan but Peacock said he had not spoken with Kroenke. If the city lost the Rams, another team could potentially play there.
"The Rams are our team and we believe with this kind of plan the Rams will continue to be our team," said Peacock, the former president of Anheuser-Busch and chairman of the St. Louis Sports Commission.
The cost of a new stadium far exceeds the roughly $700 million in renovations sought by the team for the dome. Peacock said the price may be higher, but a new stadium would come with a lease as long as 30 years instead of the remaining 10 years on the Rams current lease, and be another public asset. The $700 million price tag for renovations also primarily relied on public funding, he added.
"This isn't $700 million of public money," he said.
Peacock also called the timing of plan fortuitous given the low interest rate environment. "If you're going to do something, now is sort of the time to do it," he said.
The Rams face a Jan. 28 deadline to provide notice of their intent to convert their current lease at the Edward Jones Dome to a year-to-year lease.
Managers of the stadium previously notified the Rams that they would not follow an arbitration panel's ruling and finance $700 million in upgrades as required under terms of the lease which expires in 2025.
An independent arbitration panel had sided with the Rams in finding that the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission must make the improvements to meet a lease requirement that keeps the stadium on par with the top 25% of professional football stadiums by 2015. Without the improvements, the team can cancel its lease or shift to annual renewal after the 2014 season.
The Regional St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority issued $256 million of 30-year appropriation backed bonds under a complex agreement between the city, county, state, commission and team in 1991 to finance the stadium and an expansion of the adjacent convention center. The RCSCA contracts with the Visitors Commission to operate the stadium and it leases the stadium to the team.
The final maturity date is in 2021 while the Rams' lease would expire in 2025 if the team didn't exercise its conversion option.
The offering statement ahead of a recent stadium bond refunding noted the potential loss of the team could add to the appropriation risks, but state officials downplayed that risk, saying the state is unlikely to jeopardize its top rating over the bonds. The dome also hosts other college basketball and football sporting events and concerts and provides additional room for conventions.