St. Louis to shoot for Rams

September 17, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Now that it has solved its vexing lease problems, St. Louis will spend the next several weeks crafting an offer for the Los Angeles Rams, possibly including pre-sold sky boxes and luxury seats, according to a top official of St. Louis County.

"I think they are asking for the moon, and we will offer them a moon. I don't know if it will be half a moon or a quarter moon. We don't know if the negotiations will ever be completed, but we're going to try," St. Louis County Executive George R. Westfall said yesterday in a telephone interview.

St. Louis officials signed an agreement Thursday night with Jerry Clinton, a beer distributor who once headed the city's ill-fated effort to obtain an NFL expansion franchise, buying out Clinton's share of a lease on the downtown stadium under construction.

The city's failure to procure control of the lease from Clinton prompted the Rams to suspend negotiations with St. Louis this summer. The Rams had no comment yesterday on whether talks will resume, with a spokeswoman saying the team had not been officially notified by St. Louis of the lease agreement.

"We are over a major hurdle. We can now go to the Rams with a clean lease," Westfall said.

Clinton will receive $4 million, and another $4 million if a team is lured to town and Clinton is not a part-owner.

The money will have to be raised along with about $30 million to $35 million in incentives the Rams are going to require before moving to St. Louis, Westfall said. The team has said it wants reimbursement for $30 million in bonds it will have to pay back in Anaheim, Calif., any relocation fee the league charges, a practice facility and offices, as well as other items.

Among the methods under consideration for raising the money: selling the rights to name the stadium to a corporate sponsor or requiring fans to buy seat licenses before they can buy season tickets, similar to the plan Charlotte, N.C., used to raise money for its new NFL stadium.

Westfall said the availability of a completed stadium will be a big plus for St. Louis. The 70,000-seat domed stadium/convention center expansion is expected to be completed in time for the start of the next season, he said.

Construction cannot begin on Baltimore's proposed NFL stadium at Camden Yards unless a team agrees to move here, under the terms of the enabling legislation. A team would play in Memorial Stadium or a modified Oriole Park at Camden Yards while a stadium is built.

Westfall said he planned to meet today to discuss NFL strategy with other community leaders. They hope to establish a marketing plan and begin work on a detailed proposal for the Rams, he said. They may decide to try to market sky boxes and club seats in the stadium, he said.

The five finalists for the NFL's two expansion teams awarded last year all mounted a two-month premium-seat campaign, accepting deposits on sky boxes and premium seats to prove that they had the support. St. Louis performed the worst of the five, never fully selling out its sky boxes.

"I feel cautiously optimistic that if we put together a competitive bid we'll get the Rams," Westfall said.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who is trying to buy a minority stake in the Rams and move them to Baltimore, said he is undaunted by St. Louis' resolving its nettlesome lease problem.

"Baltimore is, I believe, from a professional football standpoint, the most supportive area in the United States," Angelos said.

He said the proposed open-air, natural-grass stadium would be superior because it would be under the control of the football team, which would receive all revenues from advertising, luxury seats, parking and concessions. The team also would have use of the Colts' former training center in Owings Mills.

In St. Louis, the team would be restricted to game-day use of the stadium because it will be leased to conventions on other days. The city has offered a practice field and offices for the team, but would have no parking under the team's control.

Meanwhile, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is scheduled to fly to Los Angeles today on an economic development mission that will include a dinner tomorrow with Rams president John Shaw, team owner Georgia Frontiere and Angelos.

"Schaefer is the biggest booster for the NFL in Baltimore that ZTC there ever was," said Angelos, who arranged the meeting after learning Schaefer was visiting the West Coast.

Although the meeting is described as a courtesy visit with the governor, it also could underscore a risk the Rams face if they wait too long to decide whether to move to Baltimore. Schaefer, who won the financing for the proposed stadium, leaves office in January, and the two leading candidates to succeed him are split on their views of the effort.

"I'm a strong supporter of that and a strong supporter of the acquisition of an NFL franchise for Baltimore," said Democratic candidate Parris Glendening, who spoke with Angelos yesterday.

Republican candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, however, says the NFL effort already has consumed enough time and resources.

"I think by next January if we don't have a team, we should be looking at using that money for other priorities, and my priorities are schools and prisons," said Sauerbrey, who, as minority leader in the House of Delegates, voted against the Camden Yards twin stadium funding.

The $165 million stadium is to be paid for through a mixture of bonds, backed by special lotteries, and revenues from the baseball stadium and city contributions.

Rams officials also were scheduled to meet today with a group of local boosters who are trying to persuade the team to stay in Anaheim. The group is expected to offer an enhanced package of incentives, including renovations to Anaheim Stadium and the construction of a new stadium for the baseball Angels, who now share the park with the Rams.

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