Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New Blues Arena?

So let me see here? The leaders of St. Louis, (starting with Missouri's Governor) have deemed it necessary to build a new outdoor stadium next to the mighty Mississippi, to the tune of almost a billion dollars. This, in order to keep an NFL team playing here. (And, okay, maybe...possibly get a pro soccer franchise too.) The current stadium, the Edward Jones Dome completed in 1995, was part of a massive local effort to lure the Rams to St. Louis. I've got that all right, don't I?

The Jones Dome is now, for numerous reasons which most of us know, judged unworthy to continue as the market's pro football venue. So prominent citizens are put in place to avert the tragedy of losing another NFL franchise to some other city. Presumably, if this effort is successful, the ownership of that NFL team (Rams or otherwise) will be gifted with another sweeter-than-sweet deal to generate riches in the new facility.

Meanwhile, a local ownership group operates a professional sports franchise that plays in another facility in town...the Scottrade (originally Kiel, and then Savvis) Center. And, guess what? That building opened in October of 1994....before the Dome.

No...nobody is complaining about the atmosphere or amenities at Scottrade...yet. But it is getting older. It isn't offering some of the glitz and glamour of other indoor facilities hosting hockey, basketball and concerts these days. It certainly requires a heavy investment in maintenance that newer buildings do not. And those local owners need to pony up for that operational expense. Frank Viverito and the St. Louis Sports Commission folks could probably tell you that Scotty is getting harder to sell to those (like the NCAA) when they pitch St. Louis for events.

I can speak personally to the antiquated nature of the building's audio/video operation. One can take a short drive to Kansas City to see how much of an upgrade a new building with the latest features would provide. Fans who witness a game played at the Sprint Center (where the Blues played, and I announced for,
a pre-season game in September) are treated to all the newest bells and whistles. And, oh by the way, a KC group has been trying to land a hockey team to play in that market for a couple of decades. They really, really want a team.

I don't know if it crosses Blues lead owner Tom Stillman's mind every day, but I'm sure by now he must have thought that if Stan Kroenke can threaten to move the Rams to Los Angeles and get this sort of panicked and concerted reaction, should he do the same? What would happen if Stillman's team were to finally win the Stanley Cup for this hungry fan base...only to have him hint at relocating the team to K.C., or somewhere else? Or, even worse, sell it because the ownership can't, or won't, sustain operations. Would there be the kind of rallying by state and city leaders that we're seeing now?

The argument could be made that the Blues are just as important a civic asset as the Rams. The Note certainly has a longer history in the Gateway City, and there is no more fervent and loyal fan base. The Blues have 50 or so home dates per season that bring people into downtown St. Louis, a place in sore need of a more vital business and entertainment environment. The Rams play 10 home games per season. Who has the greater impact there?

Scottrade Center does not need to be replaced. But it certainly will sooner than later unless investment in the facility is made sometime soon. The Blues owners could use a better operating agreement with the city to help make such an investment happen. The building needs a more up-to-date operational infrastructure, and a good-and-thorough interior remodeling. Plus, it would just be nice to see some civic and state gratitude in an outward display (tax relief/rebates?) like we're seeing for the sake of pro football.

There are some considerable and prominent St. Louisans invested in the long-term success of the Blues in the ownership group. I'm sure they are observing the NFL stadium organizing frenzy, and the financing fury being mounted that would benefit one of the wealthiest owners in pro sports, with keen interest.

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