Wednesday, February 8

Dome authority may get new powers to spend Rams settlement money | Politics

ST. LOUIS — Language circulating in the Missouri Capitol could give the entity that owns the Dome at America’s Center new powers over how it can spend its share of money from last year’s $790 million settlement with the NFL and Rams.

The language would amend the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority’s governing statute in anticipation of an enormous sum as it, St. Louis and St. Louis County — the three plaintiffs in the 2017 lawsuit over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles — divvy up the remaining $500 million or so left from the settlement after attorney fees. 

At a special meeting Friday morning, the RSA board reviewed copies of draft language that could be attached to a bill in the final week of the legislative session in Jefferson City. Among those eyeing the change is Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, one of the legislators in negotiations over the issue.

According to a draft of the language, the settlement money the RSA receives would be put into a separate fund and be limited to “economic development” or “convention and tourism development.” Economic development would be confined to job training in St. Louis and St. Louis County or infrastructure projects in low-income areas.

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The language would require a two-thirds vote from the 11-member RSA board to spend any of the settlement money it receives, or eight votes, rather than the simple majority the RSA needs to take action now. The most recent version, circulated among board members Friday morning, would also require a supporting vote from one of the city’s three appointees and a vote from one of the county’s three board members. The other five members are appointed by the Missouri governor. 

Board members were largely supportive of the general idea of the language.

“From my perspective, I think this is a really good thing,” said board member Joe Blanner, an attorney Parson appointed to the RSA in January. Another attorney at Blanner’s firm, Andrew Leonard, chairs the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the downtown America’s Center convention complex and has an operating lease with the RSA to use the Dome for events and conventions.

The RSA was created to build the Dome to lure the Rams from Los Angeles 30 years ago. The RSA’s existing statute limits its powers to sports, entertainment and convention projects and facilities, including adjacent parking or playing fields. It receives $4 million per year, half from the state and $1 million each from the city and county to maintain the Dome. But that agreement expires in 2024, and the RSA’s share of the settlement money was largely viewed as a way to continue maintaining the structure and add improvements.

“Can I ask a question?” former St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, recently appointed to the board by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. “Who asked for the amendment?”

David Spence, a Ladue businessman and Parson appointee, said there was concern that the money would be “wasted” without clarifying “some fuzzy language” in the RSA’s statute. 

“I probably created the dust storm, if you want to know the truth,” Spence said. “There’s a lot of concern, especially coming out of Jeff City, that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city and the county. And we wanted to put some safeguards that didn’t get into politics and drama, and 11 people sitting around a room with the right intentions, which all of us have, that these funds could be reinvested back into our community and truly make a difference.”

The board and its attorneys though, pointed out the language should be clarified to ensure the settlement money could be used to pay for the RSA’s operations and staff — it currently employs two people and pays attorneys and lobbyists. Bob Blitz, who represents the board and was also a lead attorney in the Rams lawsuit, said the language should also clarify that the RSA can reimburse itself for about $18 million in remaining debt it took on in the failed 2015 attempt to keep the Rams here by building a new stadium.

“Without which, we would never even be talking about how to split up $790 million,” Blitz said. 

The RSA board agreed to relay language clarifying those uses to its lobbyist, Jewell Patek. 

“If it’s left like it is, it could be a problem,” Dooley said. 

“We’ve got to get it done, like, today, though,” Spence added.

The city, county and RSA continue negotiating over the amount each will receive from the settlement, and a status is unclear.

RSA attorney Chris Baumann, an attorney at Blitz, Bardgett and Deutsch, said he and Blitz can’t be involved in the negotiations over splitting the money because they represented all three parties in the Rams lawsuit.

The RSA has hired an outside attorney to represent it in the negotiations. 

Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch’s Jefferson City bureau contributed to this report. 

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