St. Louis football stadium running out of money

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ST. LOUIS (AP) - The indoor football stadium that the St. Louis Rams call home is running out of money as the NFL’s team long-term future in the city remains murky.

The publicly-funded Edward Jones Dome anticipates needing an extra $40 million to cover maintenance over the next 15 years, the St. Louis Post -Dispatch (bit.ly/1pGZkMd) reported Wednesday. The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which owns the downtown dome, expects to exhaust its $16 million in savings in six years.

The dome receives a total of $24 million annually from the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri for maintenance and to pay off construction debt , but those payments are scheduled to cease over the next decade.

And the stadium’s future remains in limbo as lease negotiations between St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the stadium authority drag on. The Rams can break their 30-year lease after the upcoming season, which would be a decade early.

Brian McMurtry, the authority’s executive director, is asking the three governments to not only continue providing at least $4 million for annual upkeep payments but to also consider sending the dome an additional $40 million in cash, or selling $40 million in new bonds. He’s also suggested putting several stadium-related items on the city’s bond issue list for a public vote as early as this November.

“I’m going to tell you, they don’t know how they’re going to do it,” he said. “But they want to know what it’s going to take.”

Dome maintenance is almost entirely dependent on public dollars - unlike Busch Stadium, a private ballpark funded largely by the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Scottrade Center, which is maintained by the owners of the St. Louis Blues and was built with $135 million from local companies.

To help entice the Rams to stay, the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which manages the dome, in 2012 offered a $124 million improvement plan that included a bigger scoreboard and better club seating, with the Rams paying slightly more half those costs.

The team countered with a far more ambitious proposal that called for a new roof with a sliding panel and a bevy of improvements that would keep the city convention center in the dome closed for three years. The team didn’t put a price tag on its request, but city officials estimated the upgrades would cost $700 million.

“We can’t come up with a long-term solution until we know what the relationship is going to be with the Rams,” said Jim Shrewsbury, chairman of the stadium authority’s board.

The stadium authority sold bonds in 1991 to build the $300 million dome, which opened in 1995. The sponsors agreed to a 30-year payment plan. The state would send the stadium authority $10 million a year toward debt repayment, plus $2 million for upkeep. The city and county each would pay half of that.

University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said the conundrum facing St. Louis civic leaders is not uncommon when it comes to paying for aging public sports arenas.

“Estimates of revenues tend to be overstated and costs played down, or at least pushed off to the future,” he said. “You’ve got this combination, on the city side, of public officials worried about the near future, not the long term, and these sports franchises that have an enormous amount of market power. And that’s a bad combination for taxpayers.”

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