NFL, Rams meet with St. Louis task force

The National Football League was back in St. Louis Thursday getting an update on local efforts to build a stadium designed to entice the Rams to stay – or perhaps be the future home for a team that relocates there or one the NFL assigns to St. Louis via expansion.

Among those present were NFL vice president Eric Grubman, who oversees the league’s potential move back to Los Angeles and also retaining teams in current markets, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, stadium task force leaders Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz and Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

According to my tremendously talented St. Louis colleague Bernie Miklasz from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

At the four-hour session held at the Four Seasons hotel, Grubman and three other representatives from the NFL received a comprehensive update on the status of the proposed $998 million stadium planned for the city’s north riverfront.

The points of emphasis included stadium financing, an updated stadium design, and land acquisition. The discussion also entailed the preliminary outline of a prospective lease agreement that would be presented to the Rams or another NFL team.

“We continue to make progress,” Peacock told the Post-Dispatch. “And it was a good update. We covered a lot of important ground, and we’ll continue meeting with the NFL.”

Nixon, Peacock and Blitz were accompanied by a team of advisers from Goldman Sachs, which is assisting on the stadium financing, and representatives from HOK, the St. Louis-based architecture firm that’s designing the stadium.

As Bernie went on to write:

Obstacles remain.

In April the public board that runs the Edward Jones Dome filed suit against the city of St. Louis, contending that a 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote prior to spending tax money on a new stadium is “overly broad, vague and ambiguous.”

Stadium organizers are counting on the city’s portion of the stadium funding, which would be covered by an existing hotel-motel tax.

Arguments were heard by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley on June 25, and a ruling is expected soon.

If Frawley rules that city residents must vote to approve use of hotel-motel taxes before the money could be used for the stadium, the task force would have to pivot quickly and hustle to bring the measure to a ballot.

A delay could put the project — and the city’s NFL future — in jeopardy.

All that said, the big question is whether the Rams are truly interested in what St. Louis and Missouri are coming up with, or if they are simply biding time before pushing for relocation to Los Angeles, where owner Stan Kroenke is proposing a privately funded stadium in Inglewood.

Kroenke’s plan is one of two Los Angeles area stadium projects the NFL is considering, along with the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers Carson project.

The NFL could decide on the issue by the end of 2015.

My hunch is the Rams are listening, respectfully, but not all that interested in what St. Louis and Missouri leaders are offering. Their argument is, when the Rams moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis 20 years ago an agreed upon stipulation was that St. Louis would guarantee the Edward Jones Dome was among the top-tied stadiums 15 years into a 30 year lease, or pay for whatever renovations were needed to make it so.

If not, the Rams would become free agents no longer bound to any market. And free to look elsewhere.

St. Louis, as we know, balked at the $700 million dollars an arbitrator ruled was needed to bring the Edwards Jones Dome up to par. Upon doing so, the Rams became free agents.

And it looks now like their heart is set on returning to Los Angeles.

The Chargers and Raiders, meanwhile, face long odds securing new stadium deals in San Diego and Oakland within the time frame the NFL is expected to decide on L.A.

As a result, I would be shocked if the Rams, Chargers and Raiders don’t all push for relocation by the end of 2015, and that the NFL will then decide who goes to Los Angeles and where they will play.