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St. Louis Rams get $124M plan to upgrade dome

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission unveiled a plan Wednesday that calls for $124 million in improvements to the Edward Jones Dome in hopes of making sure the city doesn't lose another NFL team.

The commission had faced a Wednesday deadline to deliver the plan to the St. Louis Rams, which leases the dome.

The lease requires the dome to be "first tier," or among the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums in several categories. If not, the Rams can break the lease after the 2014 season and potentially move. Owner Stan Kroenke is a Missouri native, but has been non-committal about staying in St. Louis.

With Los Angeles organizers actively seeking a team, St. Louis fans are worried the Rams might leave, just like the Cardinals did after the 1987 season.

"There are a lot of people who say this can't be like Jerry Jones' Cowboys Stadium," CVC director Kathleen Ratcliffe said. "We're confident this proposal meets the requirement of first tier."

Messages left with a spokesman for Kroenke were not returned. The Rams confirmed they had received the proposal.

"The lease provides certain terms, a timeline and a process for this matter," said Kevin Demoff, the team's executive vice president of football operations and COO. "We are reviewing the proposal and look forward to responding accordingly."

Highlights of the plan include:

-Adding a 96-foot-long, 27-foot-tall scoreboard over the center of the field, nearly as large as the one at Cowboys Stadium in Texas.

-Adding 1,500 club seats, along with new club lounges.

-New windows along the length of the field on both sides, creating more natural light.

-Adding a 50,000-square-foot attached building that would include a "Geek Suite" area for electronics buffs and fantasy football fanciers.

-Developing a massive courtyard between the dome and the adjoining convention center that would be "almost like tailgating but without the cars," Ratcliffe said.

-Improvements to concessions and concourses.

Ratcliffe said the plan calls for the Rams to pay for 52 percent of the upgrades. That would leave taxpayers to pay the rest, an estimated $60 million.

Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, and Mike Jones, a top aide to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, said voters in both the city and would have to approve any additional funding.

"They will be fully engaged in whether they want to keep the Rams and what they'll do to keep them," Rainford said.

The Rams have until March 1 to accept or reject the offer. They can also make a counterproposal. Arbitration would begin June 15 if no agreement is reached, and the arbitration process could last through the end of the year.

Public money built the dome, which opened in 1995, the year the Rams relocated to St. Louis from Los Angeles. It was financed largely with $256 million in revenue bonds, a debt that is being paid back with $24 million annually in tax money - $12 million from the state of Missouri and $6 million each from St. Louis city and county.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Rams pay $500,000 each year to use the dome - $250,000 in rent and $250,000 for reimbursement to CVC for game-day expenses. The team gets to keep box office receipts, most advertising revenue, net game-day concession proceeds, and some concession proceeds sold for non-football events. The lease also allows use of Rams Park, the practice facility in St. Louis County.

But the 30-year lease that runs through 2025 also requires that the dome remain among the "top tier," or top eight, of the 32 NFL teams measured by various criteria. Critics contend it would be virtually impossible to bring the 17-year-old stadium to that level, especially since only 10 NFL stadiums are older than the dome and some of those have undergone multimillion-dollar renovations.

The lease can be broken every 10 years if the dome falls short of first tier. About $30 million in publicly funded improvements persuaded the Rams to maintain the lease after the 2005 marker, but Kroenke figures to be seeking a more significant upgrade this time.

Rainford said the CVC must simply prove that the dome is top tier in each of several different categories. While some are subjective, others are not, he said. For example, one criteria is scoreboard size, and the proposed board would be among the largest in the NFL.

Kroenke, who is married to the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder James "Bud" Walton, wns an estate in Malibu, Calif., and is among the finalists seeking to buy baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, leading to speculation about a possible move to California.

Or London. Those concerns were raised last month with the announcement that the Rams will play one "home" game each of the next three seasons in London, where Kroenke owns a majority share of the English soccer club Arsenal. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has often spoken of possibly locating a team in London. The CVC contends the games in England violate a lease agreement requiring all home games to be played in the dome.

Kroenke purchased a 40 percent share of the team when Georgia Frontiere moved the Rams here. She died in 2008, and two years later, Kroenke bought the remaining stake from her children.

Stadium issues were also at the heart of the Cardinals' flight from St. Louis 25 years ago. Owner Bill Bidwill moved to Arizona after repeated tries to get a football-only stadium failed. The football Cardinals shared old Busch Stadium with the baseball Cardinals.

Stadium issues have also cropped up in Minnesota, where the Vikings want a replacement for the Metrodome. The team is talking with state lawmakers and local officials about potential sites, including the current Metrodome land.

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