ST. LOUIS – A former Anheuser-Busch executive and a prominent lawyer, both experienced in dealing with the NFL, have been tapped by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to consider options that will ensure the future of pro football in St. Louis.
Nixon announced the appointment Wednesday of former A-B president David Peacock and suburban St. Louis attorney Robert Blitz to analyze the troublesome stadium issue that is threatening to send the St. Louis Rams packing, and to present options within 60 days.
“We are prepared to look at serious options to remain an NFL city,” Nixon said.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher was staying out of it, saying after practice Wednesday the team needed to prepare for this week’s game at Arizona. Fisher said the issue hadn’t been discussed with players.
“Their focus, as well as the staff’s focus, is on Arizona,” Fisher said.
Fisher had no reaction on a personal level, either.
“Again, I’m focused on the game, OK?” Fisher said. “Again, I’m in no place to comment. I’m coaching this team, this team’s playing the Cardinals, and that’s where we are with that.”
Most players said they were powerless, that the decision was out of their hands, although one player said, not for attribution: “Rams ain’t going nowhere.”
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said the news was “exciting for a phenomenal fan base that deserves a winning football team and a first-class stadium.”
“But we have no say in it,” Laurinaitis said. “It’s a start, but our bigger concern is the Arizona Cardinals. They have one loss.”
The organization issued a non-committal statement Wednesday night that read, “We have spoken with the Governor’s office and we will meet with the task force.”
Nixon said Peacock worked directly with the league on advertising and marketing while with A-B, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame advisory board. Blitz was part of the legal team that helped bring the Rams to St. Louis and is legal counsel to the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.
The Rams moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles in 1995. Early that season, what is now known as the Edward Jones Dome opened. The stadium was built with tax money and is operated by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.
The 30-year lease between the convention commission and the Rams requires that the stadium be among the top quarter of NFL stadiums, and it clearly isn’t. As a result, the team can break the lease after this season — and potentially move. Rumours of a return to Los Angeles have swirled.
“I let the guys upstairs take care of it,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “This is all I know, St. Louis is all I know, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s here or there I play for the Rams.”
Negotiations about upgrades began in early 2012. The commission proposed a new glass addition, outdoor terraces and a huge new scoreboard — improvements of less than $200 million. It proposed that the Rams pick up half the cost.
The Rams countered with a far more elaborate plan that included a sliding roof, reconfigured seating and other amenities. The Rams didn’t estimate the cost, but city officials said it would be at least $700 million. The convention commission informed the Rams last year that the dome would not get the upgrades that the team requested.
Recent speculation, including on TV and radio talk shows and in newspaper columns, has focused on a potential new stadium either in the city or St. Louis County.
It’s not clear how construction of either dome improvements or a new stadium would be funded. One option would be to extend the funding mechanism for the dome. Repayment for the 30-year bonds that financed it will total $720 million. The state of Missouri pays $12 million annually toward that debt; the city and St. Louis County pay $6 million each.
“We have funding streams that folks have gotten very used to,” Nixon said.
Michael Rathbone, policy researcher for the St. Louis-based think-tank Show-Me Institute, said additional public funding would be a mistake.
“There’s no justification on an economic basis to do so,” Rathbone said. “It wouldn’t generate any economic benefit either through personal income growth or job creation.”
Nixon said the economic impact of having an NFL team “extends long beyond Sunday afternoon, and sends a clear signal that this city is a worldwide player.” He said the 60-day deadline for the analysis is important because he wants to communicate options to the Rams before Jan. 28 — the deadline the team set to provide notice of their intent to convert the dome lease to year to year.
Salter reported from Kansas City, Missouri.
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