Members of the legislature shouldn’t be surprised if St. Louis interests soon start prowling the Capitol halls hoping to convince the state to help build a new pro football stadium in St. Louis. The state is on the hook to help pay off bonds for the present domed stadium until the mid-2020s. So are St. Louis City and St. Louis County. The state kicks in $12 million a year in payments of 30-year bonds. The city and the county split the other half of the bond payments.
The present dome cost more than $300 million to build but the final cost of the bonds will be about $720 million dollars. The Rams are free to bolt after 2015 if the present stadium is not in the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums.
St. Louis faces the threat of losing the team a decade before those bonds are paid off unless it finds a way to pay for a major facelift that will cost an estimated $700 million more, minimum. The clock is ticking on a 30-day deadline for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau to decide what it wants to do. A lawyer for the CVB tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch it is “unlikely” the city will buy into the Rams’ facelift plan. What is more likely is a whole new stadium. Several sites already are being discussed. The project isn’t just a stadium. It’s a STAY-dium.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will help provide some funding, whatever that means. Team owner Stan Kroenke has not said how much he and the team are willing to put in the pot. But a million dollars to a million doughnuts, city officials will be asking the state to kick in, too.
That will trigger the arguments we’ve heard before on the domed stadium in St. Louis, the new ballpark (and the, at last, development of Ball Park Village) in St. Louis, and the upgrades to the Jackson County Sports Complex. Those arguments usually involve whether spending millions of tax dollars on a new stadium where millionaire players perform for a multi-millionaire owner where ticket prices are beyond the realistic reach of thousands of Missourians is proper. Representatives and Senators from the corners of the state will ask what their people get out of this investment and whether the economic activity generated by the expenditure of those millions really does pay off for the citizens of all of Missouri.
The timing certainly could be better. Legislators are considering a one-billion dollar bond issue for state infrastructure. They’re considering a proposal to provide billions of dollars for the state’s transportation program. They’re thinking of writing a new school funding formula because they’re an estimated $620 million dollars behind in payments to public school districts. They’re under pressure to expand the Medicaid program at a time when federal fiscal uncertainty clouds the future of the existing Medicaid program and a lot of other state efforts.
St. Louis will not have an easy time making its case at the Capitol.
And surely someone will mention that the Rams have not had a winning season since 2003 and have been at .500 only three times in the last nine years. Last year the Rams were 7-8-1 and there is optimism that they’ll do better in 2013. They’re 49-94-1 since they finished 12-4 in 2003. But Kroenke is a new owner and he has brought in new management. Nonetheless, lawmakers who question whether their part of the state will benefit from building a big honkin’ new stadium for the Rams might be hard sells in light of the Rams’ inability to field winning teams in a stadium that is costing taxpayers $12 million a year and might cost taxpayers that much money for several years after the Rams have left town.
The Missourinet has seen it all before. We know we’ll see it again. As long as there are major league sports, Missouri’s biggest cities will want to protect their standings as major league cities no matter what the cost.