Delegation to present findings in city's bid to keep team
ST. LOUIS (AP) St. Louis upped its bid Friday to either keep the Rams or lure a new NFL team, unveiling plans for a new open-air football stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River, not far from the Gateway Arch.
The 64,000-seat stadium would cost $860 million to $985 million, with construction beginning in 2016 and ending by 2020.
The proposal was announced by attorney Robert Blitz and former Anheuser-Busch president David Peacock, a team appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in November to develop the plan.
The NFL and the team would be responsible for up to half the cost of the stadium, while some funding would come from tax credits and other public financing, including possibly extending current bonds used to pay off the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams play. But city and state leaders have long said there is no appetite for again tapping taxpayers, which is reflected in the plan that calls for no new taxes or bonds. Seat licensing fees would also help pay for the project.
''It's more than just a football stadium,'' Peacock said. ''We're talking about a continuation of the revitalization of our downtown.''
St. Louis is trying to avoid becoming a two-time loser of NFL franchises, as the Cardinals left for Arizona in 1987. Blitz said Nixon sought a new stadium plan ''so that this history does not repeat itself here in St. Louis.''
The Edward Jones Dome is outdated by NFL standards despite being just 20 years old. Negotiations over improvements to the dome - which was built with taxpayer money - went nowhere in recent years. The Rams' 30-year lease will be on a year-to-year basis starting next season because of a clause that the stadium be among the top quarter of NFL venues.
Speculation is rampant in St. Louis that Rams owner Stan Kroenke will move the team to Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market, in 2016. The league has said no team movement will be allowed this year. Those concerns escalated Monday when Kroenke was announced as part of a joint venture building an 80,000-seat stadium in the Los Angeles suburbs.
The new stadium plan has been shared with NFL officials and the Rams, Peacock said, but he has not spoken directly with Kroenke. Phone messages left with Kroenke's office were not returned.
The Rams said in a statement that they'll review the new plan and speak with state's stadium task force, and added that the team has worked ''for many years, with several agencies and commissions, and their senior management, responsible for stadium facilities in St. Louis.''
St. Louis city leaders have been frustrated with Kroenke, saying he's refused to return their calls. Much of the effort to either keep the team or attract another is being conducted directly with the league, not the team or Kroenke.
City leaders and civic boosters say St. Louis has a compelling argument to remain an NFL city: It is the nation's 20th largest market, with a loyal fan base that sold out every game from the team's arrival in 1995 until its 11 straight losing seasons - which along with uncertainty about the future - soured some fans.
The new stadium would be built in a largely blighted area, making it eligible for various tax credits, Peacock said. Just north of the Gateway Arch on the northwest edge of downtown, the stadium would be surrounded by a 10,000-space parking lot that provides an area for tailgating.
The stadium also could help attract a Major League Soccer franchise, Peacock said. The plan also calls for upgrading the Edward Jones Dome, making it more attractive for large conventions.
''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 in a statement Friday.
City and state leaders agree there is no appetite for new public funding. Nixon has said no new taxes or fees would be used for the new stadium, but has hinted that the 30-year bonds issued for the dome's construction could be extended.
The state of Missouri pays $12 million annually toward the debt; the city and St. Louis County pay $6 million each.
Peacock and Blitz have NFL ties. Peacock worked directly with the league on advertising and marketing while at Anheuser Busch, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame advisory board. Blitz was part of the legal team that helped bring the Rams to St. Louis and is legal counsel to the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.
''We are an NFL city. We are a deserving NFL city,'' Peacock said.
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