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."

Charles Jaco
Charles Jaco

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."

Sommer insists the dome is a good deal because it enhances the convention center. The dome, "for us, it is Hall 6. It's our sixth hall. That's what it's called in all our graphics." A mighty big Hall 6, needed only about a dozen or so times a year beyond the Rams' games.

"What people forget is, we agreed to do this dome -- city, county, state -- without a football team, because everybody agreed the economics made sense because of conventions and trade shows. The problem we're having with the media is that we can't get people off the fact that this ain't just a football stadium. If this were a stand-alone stadium, it would be a horrible loser."

Eek, the "L' word. Let's not even think about this messy stuff. Go Rams.

YOU THINK IT'S EASY BEING GREG FREEMAN? GUESS AGAIN: Maybe a thrice-weekly P-D column, a Monday- Friday radio show on KWMU-FM (97.1) and a weekly KETC (Channel 9) show are wearing Greg Freeman down. Or maybe Greg is just Greg, too affable to challenge Mayor Clarence Harmon, who was a guest last week on Freeman's 11 a.m. KWMU show. When Greg asked Harmon about the status of the convention-hotel deal, the mayor said the city had just "increased the bonding capacity of the empowerment zone," a move that "increased the cost" to the city. Did alarms go off? Isn't this a bad, bad sign? Well, when Greg was assured that the convention-hotel deal would be closed at the end of March and ground broken by spring, he came back with "It's finally going to happen. Great, great!" But credit Greg with getting a startling admission from Tuesday guest Buzz Westfall when a caller complained that the county's public libraries close at 9 p.m. Said Buzz, now in his third term as county executive: "I didn't know we closed at 9 o'clock. I'll be honest -- I haven't been in a library other than for a ground-breaking or a grand opening in a while." Now that would be a sign of a healthy economy: In addition to 24-hour Walgreens and Home Depots, a 24-hour public library to satisfy those middle-of-the-night urges for a good biography.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM: The quote of the week had nothing to do with the Rams; it was uttered by Pete Earley, who wrote Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas. During an NPR interview, he said a corporate executive told him "the Mob was stupid. We're making much more money now that the corporations have taken over." What does that tell you about how cold-blooded corporations are?... The award for the most inane Rams media report -- and the competition was stiff -- goes to Ruth Ezell of KSDK (Channel 5), who last Tuesday went to Francis Howell High School to talk to students to see whether they were conflicted about the Rams game (because their school's teams are known as the Vikings). Then she went (oh, the horror) to the Viking Restaurant. She closed her skit showing a clipped Hagar the Horrible cartoon strip. When will the Super Bowl be over?... Bad headline of the week goes to the St. Louis American. The subhead to "Vikings bring their soulful strut to St. Louis for playoff showdown" was "Black head coach, offensive coordinator make Minnesota threat to Rams' Super Bowl hopes." Gee, guess that means mere pigmentation is more powerful than we thought.... And finally, why did the P-D use the cryptic word "irreality" in a Jan. 12 editorial? Maybe they're trying to imagine new words to use.

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at shortcuts@rftstl. com, faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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