Arbitrators to decide on plan for Edward Jones Dome

Thursday, June 14, 2012 | 7:45 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission are heading to arbitration over what to do about the Edward Jones Dome.

The board that oversees the commission voted Thursday to begin the arbitration process after the two sides remained far apart on plans to upgrade the dome. The commission operates the dome and leases it to the NFL team.

"Hopefully, with the assistance of an arbitrator, we'll be more successful in coming to a conclusion that is in the best interest of both parties," commission spokesman Brian Hall said. The Rams declined comment.

The binding arbitration could last through the end of the year. The commission and the Rams will jointly choose three arbitrators to hear the case.

The dome was built with taxpayer funding from the city, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri. The 30-year lease signed when the Rams moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles prior to the 1995 season requires that the stadium be among the top quarter of NFL stadiums in 15 separate categories. If it isn't, the team can break the lease after the 2014 season, raising concerns the Rams might leave St. Louis.

Negotiations began early this year. The commission privately proposed to the Rams a $48 million plan in January that would have been publicly funded. When that was rejected, the commission in February announced a plan for $124 million in improvements that included better amenities and a massive new scoreboard. It would have required the Rams to pay for $64 million of the cost. Voter approval in the city and county would have been required for the rest.

The Rams countered with a much more elaborate plan 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 mayoral aide Jeff Rainford said the team's 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 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.

The arbitrators will either endorse the commission plan, the Rams' plan or develop their own. The commission will then have 60 days to decide whether to move forward with that plan or allow the Rams to end the lease.

Team owner Stan Kroenke has been noncommittal about the team's future if the dome isn't improved. The Missouri native owns an estate in Malibu, Calif., and unsuccessfully sought to purchase baseball's Dodgers, leading to speculation that the Rams could potentially return to Los Angeles without a significant dome upgrade.

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