Arbitration trial over Rams' future starts in January

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Arbitration regarding the future of the St. Louis Rams is scheduled to begin in January, pitting the NFL team, which wants a much-improved football stadium, against the agency that runs the Edward Jones Dome, which wants a renewed lease for the stadium.

The matter goes to arbitration on Jan. 14 after a year of offers and rejections. The process is expected to last two months, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/Z1k9XK ).

"Our hope is that we keep the Rams in St. Louis," said Kathleen Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the Dome. "We think it's important to have an NFL team in our community, and we want it to be the Rams."

Three people from the American Arbitration Association will decide what renovations would put the Edward Jones Dome into the "first tier" of NFL stadiums, meeting the team's lease requirements. Attorneys for the CVC will argue that their renovation proposal, worth at least $124 million, would put the Dome into the top 25 percent of the NFL's 31 stadiums.

But Rams executives have rejected that plan and proposed their own, which the CVC estimates to cost at least $700 million. The Rams have declined to comment.

The original 30-year lease allowed for periodic evaluations of the dome's ranking among all NFL stadiums, and the next evaluation marker is 2014.

The arbitrators — retired Colorado judge Federico C. Alvarez, former Iowa judge David Blair, and Chicago labor attorney Sinclair Kossoff — could either pick the CVC's proposal, which, if completed, would bind the Rams to stay in St. Louis through the end of the team's 2025 lease. Or they could decide that only the Rams' proposal meets the standard required in the lease.

The arbitrators could also come up with their own plan. But if the CVC doesn't agree to renovations the panel says are required, the Rams would be able to end the lease after the 2014 season and could move out of town or continue at the Dome on a year-to-year basis.

There is concern that St. Louis may lose the team, and team owner Stan Kroenke has been non-committal about the team's future.

Ratcliffe said the St. Louis area doesn't have $700 million for renovations.

"We have to be responsible of the cost of doing that," Ratcliffe said. "We don't think it's in the best interest of the community to be frivolous in the improvements that are made."

The dome opened in 1995, the year the Rams moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles. The city, county and state share in the $24 million annual payment toward the $720 million construction debt.

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