ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's the St. Louis Rams now, but for nearly half a century until 1994, the Rams were the Los Angeles Rams. Well, the NFL franchise is considering a return to its former home, and that has prompted Missourians to act. St. Louis aldermen and civic activists are seeking public funds to build a lavish new stadium to keep the team where they are. But as Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio reports, the plan is meeting some skepticism.
JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: I'm standing in the middle of a particularly drab section of St. Louis's riverfront. As a train passes by me, I see shells of huge brick buildings, a lot of weeds and brush and years of economic decline. But people like Jack Coatar see this place as the future of professional football in St. Louis. The St. Louis alderman says building a publicly-financed football stadium here will inject economic vitality into a blighted area and keep St. Louis as an NFL city.
JACK COATAR: We have the opportunity to completely change what that riverfront looks like - take a blighted area north of the Arch and completely regenerate that area.
ROSENBAUM: St. Louis has the unusual distinction of being both hunter and the hunted in the NFL. In the late '80s, the city lost the Cardinals to Phoenix, then lured the Rams away from LA years later. To get pro football back, politicians gave Rams ownership everything they wanted including promises to maintain the stadium as a top-tier facility. But that didn't happen, and Rams owner Stan Kroenke recently unveiled plans to build primarily with his own money a roughly $2 billion stadium near LA. Doug Woodruff fears that losing another NFL team will have a ripple effect here. He heads a downtown St. Louis advocacy group and was a banker for the St. Louis Cardinals when the team bolted for Phoenix.
DOUG WOODRUFF: Not being an NFL franchise city is a detriment. It's more of a detriment in our location in the Midwest because we compete against a lot of other cities who have this as an attribute.
VICTOR MATHESON: There seems to be very little connection between spending money on stadiums and any sort of useful economic metric.
ROSENBAUM: That's Victor Matheson, a College of Holy Cross economics professor who studies the impact of publicly funded sports stadiums. While politicians often tout them as dramatic solutions to urban blight, Matheson says those promises rarely pan out.
MATHESON: Unfortunately, NFL stadiums particularly are fairly badly suited to do this. These aren't developments that lead to a stream of people coming day after day after day.
ROSENBAUM: And there are other concerns. Stadium backers like Missouri Governor Jay Nixon contend it isn't necessary to have any kind of vote approving roughly $300 million in public funding. And that caused a backlash across the political spectrum. There's also uneasiness about owners Stan Kroenke and his silence about the Rams' future. Fans like Mark Tansey fear that Kroenke sees LA as a more lucrative market and that means no amount of public money can convince him to stay.
MARK TANSEY: I think it's the money thing with the owner. I don't think the market's here for him.
ROSENBAUM: Others, like Heather Clark-Evans, worry about Kroenke trying to manipulate St. Louis. She says other owners have raised the specter of relocating to LA to essentially blackmail cities into building stadiums at the public's expense.
HEATHER CLARK-EVANS: This is a game that the NFL owners play all the time. I'm going to throw a temper tantrum and demand a bigger stadium, and if I don't get it, I'll go there. So let there have them, and somebody else is going to move in.
ROSENBAUM: NFL owners could vote later this year on whether pro football remains in St. Louis. Here's the thing though. Some of those owners may want the option of threatening to move their own teams to LA at some point, and that may end up working in St. Louis's favor. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.