Agency submits revised improvement proposal for Rams stadium

Monday, August 20, 2012 | 7:13 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The agency that operates the home of the St. Louis Rams released a revised renovation plan Monday that it believes will put the 17-year-old stadium among the top tier in the NFL.

The 30-year lease that lured the Rams from Anaheim, Calif., in 1995 allows for the franchise to leave after the 2014 season if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed among the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums. The Rams and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which operates the facility, entered arbitration earlier this year after rejecting each other's proposals.

Team owner Stan Kroenke, a Columbia native, has been noncommittal about the team's future if the dome isn't improved. Kroenke 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.

The Convention & Visitors Commission's 128-page plan submitted to the Rams on Friday calls for, among other things, replacing the existing roof, expanding concourse levels and adding about 3,000 club seats. It also calls for a new glass exterior.

Commission president Kitty Radcliffe said the biggest addition to the plan is replacing a 50,000 square-foot building connecting to Baer Plaza, across the street from the dome, with the glass exterior

The Rams had no immediate comment about the proposal.

The Rams have asked for a retractable dome, but Radcliffe said such a feature is prohibitively expensive and "just not necessary." Radcliffe said the handful of NFL stadiums that have retractable roofs generally keep them closed to satisfy fans.

The dome was built with taxpayer funding from the city, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri.

Negotiations began early this year. The commission privately proposed to the Rams a modest $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 to 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, even re-routing a nearby street.

The Rams did not provide a cost estimate, but mayoral aide Jeff Rainford said at the time that 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 commission did not specify a cost for its revised plan, but Radcliffe said the bottom line would not be significantly higher than the original proposal. She said the commission is still getting price estimates for various improvements.

"We know it's going to be a little more expensive," Radcliffe said. "We expected give and take. But it's only a 17-year-old building. Not that old."

Both sides have agreed to attempt to complete arbitration by Dec. 31. The arbitrators will either endorse the commission's 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.

Radcliffe said the arbitration process, which has not yet been scheduled, would take several days. The Rams dropped plans to play home games in London in 2013 and 2014, citing a need to focus on lease negotiations and ease fan discontent.

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