The fitful two-decade effort to return an NFL team to Los Angeles seemed to reach a watershed moment this week with one NFL owner's proposal to build a stadium in Inglewood.
But the initiative has done nothing to dim the hopes of others claiming that they can make the best home for pro football in Los Angeles or to assure that any of the plans will succeed.
St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke's plan to build a state-of-the-art stadium on the site of the closed Hollywood Park racetrack marks the first time that a team owner controls enough land to return a league team to Los Angeles since the Rams and Raiders played their last games here in 1994, on Christmas Eve.
Real estate magnate Kroenke's commitment to build an 80,000-seat stadium is not a guarantee that the Rams would return. He and other Rams officials have not promised to move the team.
The new space could theoretically become the home of the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers or another NFL team that is unhappy with its current venue. At least 17 of the NFL's 32 teams have flirted with a move to Los Angeles over the years.
The Rams will be weighing the potential Inglewood venue against a counterproposal to keep the team in St. Louis, which civic leaders said they will deliver to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday. Two other NFL suitors say that their ambitions to host a pro football franchise in downtown Los Angeles or in the City of Industry remain undeterred by Kroenke's gambit.
Proponents of those alternatives added that they already have the needed government approvals and could break ground immediately, while the Inglewood alternative depends on the city's voters approving a ballot measure to change zoning on the property.
The economic calculus around an NFL team moving to Los Angeles will be multilayered, pitting jurisdictions offering tax cuts and other incentives against proposals in Los Angeles, a venue without such subsidies. A point in Los Angeles' favor could be the enormous Southern California market and a team's potentially lucrative television contract.
Inglewood Mayor James R. Butts Jr. said Monday that his city, already touting the recent renovation of the Forum as a concert venue, is on the verge of taking "another step … to potentially moving Inglewood . . . to a top-tier metropolis."
Nixon countered: "St. Louis is an NFL city and I am committed to keeping it that way." He did not mention the Rams by name, suggesting that the city might be open to another pro football franchise.
This week's developments place intense focus on Kroenke, who has made a fortune building Walmart stores, among other projects. His commitment to the Inglewood location could give that plan more momentum than the others. But, wearing his hat as team owner rather than developer, Kroenke could still find a better deal by keeping his team in St. Louis with enhanced taxpayer support.
The Rams have made no secret of their displeasure with their outmoded home in the Edward Jones Dome, which lacks the luxury boxes, giant replay screens and technological advances that have become the norm in new stadiums like those in Dallas and Santa Clara.
The taxpayers have shelled out $24 million a year to pay off bonds used to build the old St. Louis stadium. Those payments theoretically could be extended to build a new facility. Still, the resulting $300 million or more would not nearly match the roughly $1 billion that a state-of-the-art stadium could cost, said those familiar with the proposal.
"If anything happens at all, it'll require the NFL to come in with stadium money," said Bob Sorensen, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Another Southland alternative is the proposed Farmers Field, which entertainment giant AEG said it intends to build adjacent to Staples Center downtown. The site has city approval and could host not one but two NFL franchises, much like the Meadowlands in New Jersey is home to the Jets and Giants.
"We remain confident in the advantages of our project over any of the other sites that have been rumored for a new football stadium," AEG said in a statement.
Farther east, developer Ed Roski's Majestic Realty Co. said it's in a position to break ground immediately on a stadium in City of Industry. "We are currently grading the site and are going to build something," said John Semcken, senior vice president of developer Ed Roski's Majestic Realty Co.
In many ways, Inglewood is the sweet spot, said real estate consultant Larry Kosmont, who studied the site years ago for former Raiders owner Al Davis. It's easy to get to from Orange County, the San Fernando Valley and the entire Los Angeles Basin. And it's close to LAX, good for owners who want to fly in and stay on the Westside.
"I'm not writing off downtown," he said. "But Inglewood clearly makes sense."
The Kroenke Group says that it is committed to building an NFL-style football stadium even if the Rams aren't the team that would play in it, which prompts another question: Could the mega-builder end up as an NFL landlord in Los Angeles and an NFL owner in St. Louis? That would break new ground and potential myriad new rounds of bargaining and trade-offs — both for the league and any team that would venture to Los Angeles.
Despite their long absence from the local scene, the Rams retain a certain nostalgic glow for some locals.
The first major professional sports franchise in Los Angeles featured marquee stars such as quarterback Roman Gabriel and the potent defensive line dubbed the Fearsome Foursome. After moving to Anaheim in 1980, the team featured another superstar, running back Eric Dickerson, who still holds the leagues single-season rushing record.
When he ventured to San Diego in November to watch the Rams play the Chargers, Dickerson said he was overwhelmed by the number of throwback Rams jerseys sported by Southern California fans. "They'd say, 'We hated them for leaving, but now we want them back,' " Dickerson recalled.
Fanatic followers have been harder to come by in St. Louis, a committed baseball town, where locals balk at the notion that hardball is no longer the national pastime and the baseball's Cardinals dominate the sports pages.
The Rams have not been to the playoffs since 2004 and consistently rank in the bottom five in local TV ratings. They were 30th in home attendance this season, behind every franchise except Oakland and Minnesota, which sold out games but played in a smaller, temporary stadium.