Stan Kroenke emerged from a white jet at Van Nuys Airport a few minutes before noon Wednesday as he returned to California for the first time as owner of the Los Angeles Rams.
Less than 24 hours earlier in Houston, NFL owners voted to allow Kroenke to move the Rams from St. Louis to L.A. for the 2016 season.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Times -- Kroenke's first since his plan for a multibillion-dollar stadium in Inglewood became public more than a year ago -- the owner discussed his final pitch to league owners, the emotional relocation process and his ambitious vision for the site of the former Hollywood Park racetrack.
"If we didn't have the perspective of 40 years of doing this, I don't think any reasonable, rational person would ever do this," said Kroenke, a billionaire real estate developer and sports mogul who owns NBA and NHL teams in Denver along with English soccer team Arsenal plus other sports-related businesses. "But because we look at it a certain way, we've been through so many of these projects, and we're long-term investors. That's why we did what we did and stuck our neck out that far."
He added: "You don't get too many shots like this in life."
Kroenke, 68, told jokes, slapped his knees in excitement and teared up at one point in the interview. He appeared relieved to put the drawn-out relocation process behind him and focus on the return of the Rams to the city they left after the 1994 season.
He seemed relaxed and confident and looked as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
Kroenke said he believed that detailed renderings of the sleek, low-slung stadium project and a surrounding mixed-use development helped sway the NFL team owners to overwhelmingly support his vision over a rival stadium project in Carson.
"One of the most important things that nailed it [Tuesday] is that we just kept showing them pictures," Kroenke said. "People love pictures. And what those pictures showed was the thought and the development and the plan, and the depth of the thought."
Kevin Demoff, the Rams' top executive who helped make the presentation at the owners meeting, kept his event credential and room key as mementos of the historic occasion.
Kroenke said he had no badge and that he left his room key in the hotel.
"But we got something much more important," Kroenke said. "We got L.A."
Question: What has this experience been like so far?
Kroenke: This thing, it is a process, and it's arduous -- the NFL makes it arduous, and they should. Relocating a team should be hard. And now we get to focus on things we like to focus on.
Q: After so many false starts and pretty pictures over the last 21 years, can you blame people who might doubt this will actually get built?
Kroenke: Oh, it's going to get built. At one point [Tuesday], I was going to tell the ownership about 4,500 pages of plans. Kevin got up there and said, '6,700 pages of plans.' So I told the ownership, 'Wow. We were at 4,500 and now it's 6,700.' In other words, this costs real money.
Q: After you won the vote, you went out with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his son, Stephen, the team's general manager. What did you talk about?
Kroenke: They just kept repeating it: "The Los Angeles Rams. The Los Angeles Rams." You could tell they loved that, they loved that history. If you look around the league, those guys are connected in a we're-going-forward way. But they love that history of the Rams.
Q: What role did Seahawks owner Paul Allen play in Houston?
Kroenke: He goes to the big meetings. Paul told me he was coming. He called three times. He got interested in it. Paul knows L.A. He knows how important it is. Paul gets all the metrics, the Internet stuff, how you promote with the millennials. L.A. is hugely important for the league.
When I started working on this two years ago, I took Paul through the whole thing. I said, 'This is what I think we can do here. I'm not sure we can do it all, but here's what we're working on.' He was always interested. Then once we got to a certain point, he definitely got it. He got how good it was.
Q: Owners have heard these stadium pitches before. What was your theme in Houston?
Demoff: We started our presentation by saying this is the project you've waited 21 years for. This was the NFL's greatest asset that they could give someone and they gave it to our group. That's an awesome responsibility.
Q: How did owners react?
Kroenke: At the end of the day they gave it to us for the right reasons. That's the right project. It's that simple. I heard a lot of owners say, "That's the right project. That's what we need."
Q: Did you get many texts or emails after the final vote?
Demoff: I'm obsessive about cleaning out my inbox. If I have five or six in there, I feel overwhelmed. I had 122 emails and over 300 text messages. We beat Seattle in overtime in the opener, and I got 40 texts. You hear from people who are so excited and you never knew they were Rams fans.
Q: Who reached out to you, Stan?
Kroenke: One of the first guys that texted me last night was Terry Fancher [Stockbridge Capital's executive managing director and a development partner with the Inglewood stadium site]. He was just so excited. He said, "Stan, I just landed in L.A. You should see this town."
He said, "You have changed this city." It was cool. … You know what I'm glad about? Certain people relied on us. This guy right here [motioning to Demoff with his voice cracking] … It's emotional because a lot of good people relied on us. We came through for them. Didn't know if we could. It's never a sure thing.
Q: How do you feel about leaving St. Louis?
Kroenke: It truly is bittersweet. I grew up in Missouri, and there's a lot of wonderful people in St. Louis and Missouri. I'll always feel that way about Missouri. I never dreamed I'd be put in this position. But at the same time, you're not going to sit there and be a victim.
Q: How did you first become interested in the Hollywood Park site?
Kroenke: In the summer of 2013, I really started looking hard. I knew the general lay of the land in Inglewood. To me, there was one obvious place, and it had been approved previously by the NFL: Hollywood Park.
I didn't know if it would be put together or not. But I started looking. I was driving around at 5:30 a.m. That's what real estate developers do.
Q: Why were you up so early?
Kroenke: That's the best time because the traffic isn't out, so you can get around quickly. I started looking at different sites to make sure I had them in my head. What do they look like? What could be done? How does the long term look for the areas? And when you drive up to Hollywood Park, it's a great site.
Q: Kevin, do you remember getting that early-morning call from Stan?
Demoff: There are moments in your life you never forget. I was standing by the window in my office [in St. Louis] and Stan called. ... I remember he said, "This is an unbelievable site."
Q: You've developed real estate for something like 40 years; what made the site so attractive?
Kroenke: I've done this countless times, literally hundreds of deals. You just look for certain things. For example, [at] Hollywood Park, there's a Target store and development right next door. Starbucks is there. These are people we're very familiar with. We do developments with them. For me, it's starting to click.
Q: Other owners described the stadium as "transformative." What will be unique about it?
Demoff: This is the stadium of the future for the NFL and hopefully for other sporting venues. When you look -- especially in L.A. -- it's a melting pot of NFL fans. You look at the Steelers bars and Redskins bars and Bears bars. You want to take that and put it into your campus and find ways that at every turn people can watch the other games.
L.A.'s become a fantasy-oriented, Red Zone-oriented, DirecTV-oriented culture. And I think our job is to blend that with now having a hometown team. To start to build that allegiance where you walk into the stadium and you never feel that you're giving up everything else that's going on Sunday but you still have the Rams right in front of you.
Q: Will the venue feature seats that show off L.A.'s celebrities, like Jack Nicholson's seats at Lakers games?
Demoff: You need Lakers seats. You need Dodgers seats behind home plate so you can see Larry King sitting right there. So we have sideline suites. Field suites. ... They're pulled out right up to the field. We've designed concepts throughout the stadium that allow entertainers to basically sit outside but in a way that allows them to be differentiated.
Q: So you want to include the entertainment industry in the stadium experience?
Kroenke: That's part of L.A. You'd better be doing that. That's how you engage the community, frankly. If we're not doing that right, we're not servicing the fans of L.A. You go to L.A., you better do it right or you shouldn't be there. It's complex, it's complicated, it's a big market, there's a lot of competitive forces there.
Q: Can a team succeed in L.A. without putting a winning product on the field?
Demoff: You can't just walk in and say, "The NFL is back" and roll out the football and expect success. You've got to go earn it.
Q: Will you bring back the old L.A. Rams uniforms?
Demoff: I think the philosophy on the uniforms is a microcosm of the philosophy of the project. Yes, we have a rich tradition and history in Los Angeles. We have colors that people identify with. We have historic players. You want to carry some of that forward.
But, we're also about to enter a world-class stadium that should be one of the best. … Yes, the Rams are coming back. It's not the Rams from the '60s, '70s, '80s. This is Stan's vision and Stan's stadium. We want to make sure we represent best in class in every aspect while we borrow from the Rams' legacy. When I look at the Rams' return to L.A., that's what people are excited about -- it's modern NFL mixed with the team they grew up with.
Q: Have you noticed the large cardboard cutout of Stan's head displayed by some L.A. Rams fans over the past year?
Kroenke: You want to talk about surreal? It's kind of part of the territory, I guess. You never get comfortable with that. But they're having fun.
Q: Does any of this feel real yet?
Demoff: My job was to make sure that we had a project that when you put it in front of the owners, all they had to do was raise their right hand and they have the project they've always wanted. I was looking at [Tuesday] and that's what it was. They realized all they had to do was check a box and they got the project they wanted.