St. Louis struck back in its bid to keep the Rams, unveiling plans for a new downtown stadium that civic leaders here hope will persuade team owner Stan Kroenke and NFL executives the footloose franchise should stay put.
A panel appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon laid out plans Friday for a 64,000-seat open-air stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River just north of downtown, a few blocks from the existing — and in the Rams' view obsolete — Edward Jones Dome.
The new stadium would be publicly owned and its cost — from $860 million to $985 million, depending on options — would be divided among team, league and public sources, with Missouri taxpayers footing about 40% of the bill.
That's in sharp contrast with the plan Kroenke and his new partners at Stockbridge Capital released Monday for an 80,000-seat stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, to be funded entirely out of their own pockets. But the Rams are too important to let go without a strong effort to keep them, said David Peacock, a former top executive at Anheuser-Busch who's leading the stadium project.
"The Rams are our team," he said. "We believe with this kind of plan, the Rams will continue to be our team."
The Rams are expected to be St. Louis' for at least one more season. The NFL has said no franchises would relocate before the 2015 season and the Rams have not applied to move. But they are free to convert their lease to year-to-year status this month, and that event, coupled with Kroenke's announcement Monday, have given urgency to stadium talks that have dragged on for years.
Peacock said he had not met with Kroenke or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but added he had been in "constant contact" with team and league officials in recent months and gotten positive signals from both.
In a statement, the Rams said they planned to review the proposal. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy called the plan "a positive development."
Of the two, the NFL office may be the more important audience. League bylaws block teams from moving simply for financial gain, unless they have exhausted all options in their hometown. Peacock mentioned those bylaws several times in his remarks Friday, and said it was important to convince the NFL that St. Louis is a place the league needs to be.
"A key message is the fact that St. Louis has been, is and always will be a strong NFL market," he said.
That's a smart approach, said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based consultant for sports leagues and teams. The question that will determine the Rams' future is not whether the team can make more money in Los Angeles than it can in St. Louis. It's whether the franchise — currently the least valuable in the NFL according to Forbes Magazine — can be successful in St. Louis.
"It's not a matter of competing with L.A.," he said. "It's a matter of putting together a plan that is viewed as likely to be successful for the team and the league."
The stadium proposal faces a number of hurdles.
Public agencies in St. Louis own only about one-fourth of the land where the stadium would sit, a smattering of empty brick warehouses, little-used parking lots and a few existing businesses on 60 acres between a casino and a new bridge over the Mississippi River. They'll need to buy more than 30 buildings, though Peacock said he was confident that could happen quickly.
A bigger challenge could be lining up the public financing.
State and local leaders have pledged that any "new" tax money for a stadium would get a public vote, one that observers say could be a tough sell in a cash-strapped region that's still paying off the Edward Jones Dome. A more likely approach, organizers say, would refinance and extend the dome's bonds, capitalizing on unusually low interest rates, and tap a variety of state tax credits to raise the $340 million to $405 million needed. But even that may require a vote by state lawmakers.
Leaders of Missouri's Republican-dominated legislature, which started a new session this week, have taken no position on the matter. Nixon, a Democrat who has said he's committed to keeping the NFL in St. Louis, issued a statement saying he's pleased with the plan and will keep pressing the city's case with the league.
The hardest part of all, said Neil deMause, editor of the stadium subsidies website Field of Schemes, is figuring out what Kroenke's really up to. Either he's planning a billion-dollar bet on Los Angeles with one foot already out the door, or he just got St. Louis to cough up $400 million by issuing a news release about a stadium in L.A.
"And the thing is," DeMause said, "If [Kroenke] goes for this plan, we'll never know if it was a bluff or not."
Times Staff Writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.