ST. LOUIS — The NFL is abandoning St. Louis again, and this time, the mayor has no interest in trying to bring pro football back.
League owners voted Tuesday to allow the Rams to move to Los Angeles starting next season. It means that St. Louis is losing a team for the second time in three decades. The Cardinals left for Arizona in 1987, and St. Louis was without football until the Rams arrived from Los Angeles in 1995.
The decision stunned some in St. Louis who thought plans for a $1 billion riverfront stadium would persuade the NFL to let the Rams stay. The stadium plan was deemed inadequate, opening the way for Tuesday’s decision that also gives the Chargers the first option at sharing a new $1.86 billion stadium planned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke in Inglewood, California.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has had enough, saying the NFL strung St. Louis advocates along while never intending to block Kroenke’s move. The decision “sent a loud and clear message.”
“Their home cities and hometown fans are commodities to be abandoned once they no longer suit the league’s purposes,” Slay said Wednesday.
Asked if he believes the city should pursue another team, Slay gave a definitive no.
“At this point I’m so frustrated and disappointed with the NFL,” Slay said. “Why would anybody want to, in any way, even entertain any suggestions from the NFL after the way they dealt with St. Louis here? I mean, it was dishonest. They were not being truthful with us. There’s no appetite that I have to take another run at an NFL team.”
Dave Peacock, co-chairman of the St. Louis stadium task force, wasn’t as adamant, but seemed resigned to life without the NFL. He said he believes St. Louis has the fan support, but “it would need to be a fully committed effort by the league and the owner.” Besides, he said, the league is not planning to expand, and no teams seem poised to move.
Peacock called the interactions with NFL leadership “a head-scratcher. ” He said NFL executives initially expressed support and optimism about the stadium project. In the end, he said, he realized the deck was stacked against St. Louis, perhaps the whole time.
“Having been through this process I’d say there was probably more of this that was contemplated and contrived than I realized,” said Peacock, a former Anheuser-Busch executive.
With the Rams leaving, the stadium plan appears all but dead.
The plan was contentious because it would have required about $400 million in public money (with the rest coming from the league and the owner), just a little over two decades after the Edward Jones Dome was built completely with taxpayer funds. City aldermen had already approved about $150 million, but some Republican legislative leaders were pushing for a public vote on state funding. A legislative hearing scheduled for Wednesday was called off.
Slay was clearly ready to let go of the stadium plan, which would have revitalized an area of mostly vacant buildings just north of the Gateway Arch. He said land acquisition efforts at the riverfront site should continue toward “a different kind of development,” though he said there are no specific alternative plans.
Across the St. Louis region, the mood was melancholy, with more than a hint of anger.
“Money walks,” read a banner sports page headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Kroenke turns his back on St. Louis.”
On social media, many fans fondly remembered the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams who were dominant from 1999 through 2003, winning one Super Bowl and losing another, before going on a 12-season run of non-winning seasons that included a 7-9 finish in 2015. Many expressed anger with Kroenke.
The loss of football will hurt the region economically. Team jobs will move to Los Angeles. The stadium project would have created hundreds of jobs in construction, design and other fields.
The city, St. Louis County and the state are still paying off bonds that built the dome through 2021. Slay said the city’s annual $5 million bond payment had been offset by revenue generated by the team. Not anymore.
The dome is part of the city’s convention center, so there are no plans to alter it — except for the removal of Rams memorabilia and property. By Wednesday, large banners featuring Rams players were still up outside the dome and on the interior rafters.
Slay said the loss of the Rams is a “short-term blow” to the city’s ego, but St. Louis will survive.
“We’re going to move forward,” Slay said. “We’re going to do very well without NFL football in St. Louis.”