ST. LOUIS — The agency that operates the Edward Jones Dome on Friday rejected an improvement plan for the 17-year-old stadium proposed by the St. Louis Rams.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission said in a brief statement that it believes it is in "the best interest of the community and the Rams to engage in meaningful dialogue over the next two weeks, and looks forward to the opportunity to do so at the earliest convenience of Rams management."
Arbitration begins if no agreement is reached by June 15 and the arbitration process could last through the end of the year.
"The public has now seen both proposals," said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. "The two are dramatically different. We're probably headed where everybody thought all along, to arbitration."
Under the terms of the 30-year lease between the commission and the Rams, the dome must be among the top quarter of all 31 NFL stadiums before the start of the 2015 season. If not, the team can break the lease and potentially become the second NFL team to leave St. Louis in 25 years.
In a statement, Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said the team agrees on the need for further discussion. "We believe this would be a productive next step in the first-tier process," he said.
Neither side has provided specifics of how the worthiness of the stadium upgrade will be assessed, but Rainford has said that the commission must simply prove the dome is top tier in each of several different categories. While some are subjective, others are not, including the size of the scoreboard.
The dome, which opened in 1995 after the team relocated from Los Angeles, was built with money from city, St. Louis County and Missouri taxpayers.
The commission's rejection was not unexpected given the wide discrepancy between the Rams' plan and one submitted by it in February. That plan called for $124 million in improvements, including a bigger scoreboard and better club seating. It also would have required the Rams to pay 52 percent of the cost. Taxpayers would have to approve funding for the remaining 48 percent.
The Rams' counterproposal submitted May 1 was far more elaborate, calling for a new roof with a sliding panel, replacing much of the brick exterior with a glass front and re-routing a nearby street.
The Rams did not provide a cost estimate but Rainford said the plan would cost about $700 million and the dome, which also hosts conventions, would have to be closed for renovation for up to three years, potentially costing the city $500 million in convention revenue.
The Rams did not intend for their proposal to be publicly released. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster released it against the team's wishes on May 14 following open records requests from media, including The Associated Press, which contended that since taxpayers are paying $720 million over 30 years to fund the dome, records related to it should be open.
Owner Stan Kroenke has been noncommittal about the team's future if the dome isn't improved. He is a Missouri native who became the minority owner when Georgia Frontiere brought the Rams to her hometown of St. Louis. But Kroenke owns an estate in Malibu, Calif., and unsuccessfully sought to purchase baseball's Dodgers, leading to speculation that the Rams could head west after the 2014 season without a significant dome upgrade.
St. Louis has been through this before. The football Cardinals moved to Arizona after the 1987 season when owner Bill Bidwill was unable to get a stadium of his own. The football and baseball Cardinals shared old Busch Stadium.