Regional Leaders Should Keep Their Word over Stadium Plan
It’s official. The Rams are leaving Saint Louis. Residents might have disagreed over whether to spend public money on a stadium to keep them here, but no one wanted the region to lose an NFL team. However, while a lot of frustration has been directed toward Rams ownership and the NFL, including accusations of broken promises, we should remember that Saint Louis regional and state officials made their own promises over the past year regarding the riverfront stadium plan, and residents should make sure that those promises are kept.
First, after the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA) got a judge to throw out the city’s ordinance requiring a vote before public money could go to a stadium, the mayor’s office promised that city officials and the Board of Aldermen would craft a new, legally defensible ordinance in the same spirit. The mayor’s office claimed this couldn’t be done for the riverfront stadium, because time was of the essence. Now the Rams are moving, and there would appear to be plenty of time for ordinance-writing.
Second, at the state level, most legislators were indignant that the governor and the RSA would extend bonds without their approval. Senate leadership threatened to withhold bond payments for a new stadium. They claimed that the RSA was not created with the intent of becoming a permanent stadium-building authority. Now the state legislature has time to close that loophole, assuming that their opposition was more than grandstanding.
Finally, just about every public official and the leadership of the governor’s stadium task force told the public that if there is no commitment from an NFL team, there will not be a stadium. Last time Saint Louis lost a team, the city built a stadium on spec. After failing to land an expansion team, the city and state scrambled to lure an existing team—which turned out to be the Rams—to Saint Louis. To lure them, the region signed the terrible lease that is the cause of our present troubles. Let’s not repeat past mistakes. The RSA has already spent more than $16 million of public money (equivalent to about two years of maintenance on the Dome) planning a stadium (and suing the city) for a Rams organization that was not interested in staying here. It’s not time for the regional leaders to try to buy another football team or build a soccer stadium. It’s time to stop.
The criticism being leveled at the NFL and Stan Kroenke at this moment is understandable. But it is worth remembering that Mr. Kroenke did not attempt to extort money from Saint Louis. He did not ask for a publicly funded stadium. He did not ignore state legislators, cut the county out of the funding scheme, threaten to use eminent domain, or throw out the city’s vote. He did not ask us to grovel. We did it to ourselves. Now it’s time for policymakers to follow through on their promises and make sure this does not happen again.