If history tells us anything about the metropolitan area of St. Louis and professional sports teams it tells us that getting a new stadium built is never the easiest effort in local civics. The St. Louis Blues struggled for years to get out of the Arena and the team darn near moved to Saskatchewan. The St. Louis Football Cardinals tried for years to get a new domed stadium in Earth City and then eventually moved to Arizona. The St. Louis Cardinals fought for years to get a new Busch Stadium built with even some mild threats and histrionics from a team broadcaster about moving the team out of downtown. In the end though it was built, minus one promised ballpark village. We do have a nice softball field though, but that is a subject for another day.
That brings us to the biggest issue facing the St. Louis Rams organization off the field and that is the current lease situation. Everyone by this point knows the Rams will have an opt-out in the lease if the Edward Jones Dome is not in the top 25% of the league by 2015. This has no chance of happening. So what is going to happen is that the Rams will have to get some sort of assurances that there will be a new stadium built in the next decade.
As we also know there is no chance that they will get a new stadium that is built entirely with public money. Most likely any public money that is used will only be a small part of the project. What most insiders will also tell you is that the relationship between the CVC, who runs the Dome, and the Rams is a little icy to say the least. There are people at the CVC who have openly said that they could do better with the convention center facility without the Rams occupying the building. So if Rams fans are counting on the CVC to be of a great help then they are holding their breath.
One of the great problems with the St. Louis area is that we have leaders who are afraid to look ahead. So with all of that background I will tell you what should be happening with one of our leaders right now, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. Right now Charlie Dooley could be doing a great thing for the community by contacting the St. Louis Rams, whose offices reside in the County by the way, and be asking to set up a meeting.
The meeting should go something like this. Dooley would tell the Rams that he understands their situation and wants to get something done and keep the Rams in St. Louis into 2050 and beyond, because he wants this to be his legacy. Dooley should also tell the team that there is no way the public is going to finance your building, but we can help clear the way to get a building done.
Dooley would then say that we have two sites that are ready to go, with great highway access that we can develop and make one of the great stadium/commercial developments in the country. Here are our two proposals.
#1 The Old Chrysler Plant in Fenton.
It is a large piece of land that could be developed very quickly. We tear down the facility on the piece of land and you have a wide-open property sitting right next to Highway 44. There is a lot of money to be made in the area with it being in a pocket of St. Louis County where the average household income is above average. It is a site that is essentially ready to go for development and would be a great opportunity.
#2 Maryland Heights Expressway
The other site I would propose is in the Maryland Heights area by the new Maryland Heights Expressway. Again it is a site that sits in an open area that can handle a lot of traffic coming in and out of your building. With the opening of the new expressway and it connecting to 141 it provides a corridor through the heart of West County. It also provides a clear connector, with the Page Extension, into St. Charles County, which would also be beneficial to any development that you might want to add on to the stadium.
Dooley would then say that between these two sites we can provide the land and the infrastructure to get a stadium done and you won’t have to fight the political games that you would in a downtown stadium. One of the problems that you have had in your time in St. Louis with the fans is that there is no NFL experience with the Dome. One of those reasons is because tailgating around the Dome is awful. If you had a large parking lot and some development immediately around the stadium the fan experience would increase dramatically and you would make a ton more money.
It makes a ton of sense for the County to do it, because of the revenue, and it would make a ton of sense for the Rams to do it because it would make them more money while not having to endure the problems of trying to move a franchise. Granted getting a new stadium in St. Louis County would probably not measure up to the money that could be made in Los Angeles, but if Stan Kroenke is committed to St. Louis then this is a very reasonable option.
I truly believe that if the Rams stadium situation is going to be resolved it is going to take a leader in the region to make it happen and the solution won’t come from the CVC. The city is going to want another downtown stadium, which I think has shown to be not fan friendly. The reason I say this is because of the lack of tailgating room which is a key component to why other stadiums are much more enjoyable to go to on Sunday afternoons.
The Dome has also not been a catalyst for development in that part of downtown. If the CVC thinks they can do better getting conventions and making money for downtown that way then by all means lets do it and see if they can back it up. But lets get the football fans in this town taken care of too. If the city proper has to actually not have a professional sports team in their tax generating area then so be it. It is long since time for this region to get over the county and city lines and realize we are in Metro St. Louis and not a City or County or St. Charles County or Illinois resident.
I would even encourage an Illinois county or St. Charles County to get involved in trying to lure the Rams if that is what it would take. While I don’t think it would be great to have the team too far out on the Metro Area’s fringes I would encourage anyone who is willing to have a vision of making the region better get involved.
The fact is that we see all of this coming down the road. It is time to start doing real planning instead of waiting to see what the CVC is going to do in 2014. The area wants the Rams and the Rams at this point seem to want to be here. Lets get this thing to happen. My first proposal is Fenton or Maryland Heights. I am ready to listen to others.
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