THE TRANS WORLD DOME AS A CASE OF BUDWEISER

Civic squabbling -- featuring RFT editor Safir Ahmed -- on KMOX; plus, other St. Louis follies and foibles

When the Rams hype reaches a fever pitch, a rolling boil, it's almost enough to make you wish Susan Powter would return from the lost land of flamed-out celebrity to scream just one more time: "STOP THE INSANITY!" But alas, hyper-perky Susie has gone on to the infomercial afterlife -- surely it's a hell if there ever was one -- so we have to settle for KMOX-AM's Charles Jaco, who is slightly less intense than Susie, though he has a similar clipped cadence to his speech and short, but unspiked, hair.

On Friday, Jaco's 3 p.m. topic was, you guessed it, the Rams. But Jaco posed a few nagging questions, such as: Is the current Rams buzz worth the $720 million the city, county and state will pay over 30 years for the Trans World Dome? Is the contract the Rams signed to come here anything more than legitimized grand larceny? Well, those weren't the exact questions. Jaco had as a guest, by phone, Safir Ahmed, editor of the publication you're reading right now. Ahmed authored an RFT feature back in 1996 that broke the news that the Rams could bail on their 30-year contract after 10 years (in 2005) if the dome was judged not to be in the top tier of NFL stadiums. Jaco referred to Ahmed as a "de facto" authority on the lease/contract. What a burden to bear.

Under Jaco's questioning, Ahmed criticized the contract as far too generous to the Rams on advertising and parking revenue and not demanding enough on the team's covering costs at the dome. And all the supposed economic hallucinations spewed forth by RCGA about how the Rams' getting to the playoffs meant $111.3 million to the local economy -- seemingly swallowed whole by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when it ran the claim as its lead story on Sunday, Jan. 9 -- particularly annoyed Ahmed. "The RCGA thing bothers me to no end. The fact that they put out a press release that the economic impact of the Rams is $111 million, that's all gobbledygook. They do that all the time. That's loaves and fishes," Ahmed told Jaco. "You can't talk about economic impact like that without taking into consideration what the public, what the taxpayers, are paying for all this."

After hanging up with Ahmed, Jaco talked to a pissed-off Bruce Sommer, the former alderman and restaurateur who heads the America's Center convention complex, which includes the Trans World Dome. Sommer told Jaco and KMOX listeners that Ahmed said all sorts of things about the Rams' lease that were "completely untrue.

"He says it's the sweetest deal in the country for the NFL. It is not. The people in Texas who just purchased a team for $700 million are laying out a whole lot more than we are. No. 2, he says it's not a 30-year contract. Any lawyer in this town will tell you it's a 30-year contract. Like most contracts, if we don't perform in certain ways, they have the option of breaking the contract."

Sommer said Ahmed was wrong about the payout from the Rams to the Convention and Visitors Center, saying CVC clears $1 million a year on the Rams. "So the Rams financially are equal to 10 major conventions every year, for the next 30 years, to this building and to this city," Sommer said. "The Riverfront Times ought to learn how to read that lease correctly."

Well, reading is fundamental, but let's not quibble over interpretations. Sommer seems to look at his CVC world with certain blinders on. For CVC, the Rams pay $250,000 for 10 games, $400,000 to cover half of "day-of-game expenses" and another $1.1 million that is 25 percent of advertising revenue. Yeah, the Rams get the other 75 percent. Add all that up, subtract the other half of "day-of-game expenses" and you have the CVC "clearing" almost $1 million a year on the Rams. Of course, there's that mortgage on the dome. It's $24 million a year, with $6 million a year offered up by the city and the county and $12 million by the state. That $1 million lagniappe CVC gets doesn't directly find its way back to the city, county or state.

Surprisingly, the few callers Jaco took after Sommer, Ahmed and John Rawlings of the Sporting News more or less bashed the stadium deal. One, however, slammed Jaco and the radio station.

"You're disavowing all that's going on at your radio station," said Ann-on-a-car-phone. "Then why is KMOX sponsoring a big pep rally on Friday?"

Jaco shot back: "What do you mean by "disavowing?' Explain yourself."

"You're acting like this is the worst thing that happened to St. Louis since the floods. I think it's a wonderful thing for the city."

So does Sommer. "We're our own worst enemy," a cooled-down Sommer said when reached by phone less than an hour after talking to Jaco on the air. "We finally have some success with an important entity, a NFL franchise, and all the old shit gets rehashed. I'm sure the national media in town loves it and will get a kick out of writing their articles about how St. Louisans are still upset."

In Sommer's worldview, the Trans World Dome is just Hall 6 at America's Center. The Rams subsidize, to use the term loosely, America's Center, which holds about 200 events a year. "Here's what happens. The only way to view this is to view St. Louis as a supermarket and the Convention Center and the Trans World Dome as a loss leader. We're the case of Budweiser on sale to get somebody to come to our supermarket."

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