Future of NFL in St. Louis Appears to be in Court’s Hands
In March, the NFL announced the league was accelerating its efforts to move an NFL franchise to the Los Angeles market. Stan Kroenke, the St. Louis Ram’s owner, has a $1.86 billion stadium complex planned in Inglewood, California. It is clear that time is of the essence, and Jay Nixon’s two-man stadium task force of Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz need to get their proposed financing for the $985 million stadium development in downtown St. Louis finalized and before the NFL owners’ committee as soon as possible. Under the current proposal approximately $350 million would be raised through “bond extension.”
The St. Louis Stadium plan hit a potential hurdle on April 6, 2015 when St. Louis University Law Professor John Ammann sent a letter to the St. Louis City Counselor’s Office threating to sue if there is no civic vote prior to the use of public money on the new St. Louis development. Professor Ammann cited a city ordinance enacted in 2002 that requires a civic vote prior to the use of money for the stadium development (St. Louis City Ordinance 3.91).
With the potential delay of suits ahead, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA) quickly countered and filed suit on April 10, 2015 requesting the Circuit Court of St. Louis to issue a declaratory judgment on the matter of a voting requirement. The RSA claims in their petition that, “The City Ordinance in overly broad, vague and ambiguous terms purports to contain restrictions on the power of the City (and many other legally separate entities) to provide ‘financial assistance’ to the development of a professional sports facility.”
The ordinance defines “financial assistance” as “any City assistance of value, direct or indirect, whether or not channeled through an intermediary entity, including, but not limited to, tax reduction, exemption, credit, or guarantee against or deferral of increase; dedication of tax or other revenues; tax increment financing; issuance, authorization, or guarantee of bonds; purchase or procurement of land or site preparation; loans or loan guarantees; sale or donation or loan of any City resource or service; deferral, payment, assumption or guarantee of obligations, and all other forms of assistance of value.”
The three alternating points RSA urge the court to consider are: (1) the statutes creating the RSA predate the 2002 ordinance and the legislative intent was to be preemptive; (2) the 2002 ordinance violates the Missouri Constitution in that it attempts to retroactively impose a vote requirement not contained in the statutes creating the RSA; and (3) that the 2002 ordinance is unconstitutional because it is vague and ambiguous; it attempts to regulate non-governmental entities, and it seeks to impose voter requirements in certain types of financings in contravention of statutes which provide to the contrary.
The current plan would issue new bonds that would both fund the new stadium as well as pay for the existing debt on the Edward Jones Dome, the Ram’s current home. The payment would be the same as the city already makes on the Edward Jones Dome’s debt annually ($6,000,000); however, payment will continue beyond the current 2021 expiration date. Additionally, the city would contribute the land for the project and provide one of a number of tax based incentives. Jim Shrewsbury, chairman of the RSA, said in a statement, “Our counsel has advised that because the proposed stadium involves a significant private financial commitment and no additional tax increase, another vote by the public is not needed.”
Proponents of the current plan believe that the plan for the Edward Jones Dome was properly passed prior to the enactment of the ordinance and that the current plan simply extends the original plan, thus eliminating the need for a vote.
Opponents to the new stadium argue that the financing plan violates the 2002 ordinance and undermines the rules that the public voted to enact in this exact situation. This public opinion is evidenced as the 2002 ordinance in question was passed in St. Louis City by nearly ten percentage points.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has simply said, “Whatever the outcome, we will follow the law.” The future of professional football in St. Louis appears to be in the hands of the court’s interpretation.