The Deal of the Century

Convention and Visitors Commission honcho John Ferrara gets hot and bothered about the RFT's treatment of the Trans World Dome deal; plus, other St. Louis follies and foibles

 John Ferrara, Pasta House Co. impresario and chairman of the Convention and Visitors Commission, was fed up trying to explain that when talking about the Trans World Dome, it's better and more fair to say it cost $280 million and not mention the real payout of $720 million the taxpayers will fork over during the 30-year length of the note. St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall agreed.

To prove their point, they wanted to know how much the abode of your humble narrator cost. When told that the selling price of the brick two-family flat in the city was 57,000 simoleons, Ferrara was unimpressed. "You should live in a phone booth, then," he blurted, dissing the quality and status of shelter that that much money could buy. Apparently -- in real estate, at least -- for Big John, size does matter.

Westfall and Ferrara, two PSL-holders who even went to New Orleans for a Rams road game this season, were in the Khorassan Room Monday night, waiting for the premiere of the NFL Films Rams-highlight video. They obviously were not fans of RFT coverage of Georgia Frontiere's grandiose return to her hometown. Westfall said the newspaper has an ulterior motive in mentioning the total cost of the dome, including the financing costs, instead of just stating how much was financed.

John Ferrara on the RFT's $720 million price tag for the Trans World Dome: "When you went to journalism school, you should have studied economics."
John Ferrara on the RFT's $720 million price tag for the Trans World Dome: "When you went to journalism school, you should have studied economics."

"Why would you talk that way about this when nobody talks that way about buying a house or a building? I know why you do it -- because you want to put a negative spin on it. There's no other explanation. It's nonsense," Westfall said.

But if 30 years of mortgage payments on a $57,000 house end up totaling about $150,000, isn't stating the whole amount a better way to reflect reality?

"It's not reality. It's bullshit what you're saying," Westfall said. Ferrara backed him up: "It's totally erroneous. It's not fair. It's totally unfair." Westfall went back to the house analogy.

"When somebody, in a casual conversation, when you're not news reporting or looking for some negative spin, asks what you paid for your house, you tell them 150 grand? The answer is no," Westfall said. "Since we don't any other time, why does The Riverfront Times do it now?"

Ferrara had a quick answer: "It's misleading and you do it on purpose." He added some career advice: "When you went to journalism school, you should have studied economics." This from a man who calls the Rams coming to St. Louis "the deal of the century." Let's be glad that century is almost over.

The proof that the dome was needed for the convention center, Ferrara insisted, is that it's in use about 240 days a year. On those days, some part of the dome is being used for a show or being used to set up or tear down an exhibit." The domed stadium is part of the convention center, with 240 use days," Ferrara said. All right, all right. "No, it's not all right, because you guys don't listen. It's really irritating. We have 240 use days this year -- why don't you count those?"

But do we really need a domed stadium to help house an auto show?

"You need a facility that size to do that. You need the floor space," Ferrara persisted. But a domed stadium?

"You do that for the football team," Ferrara said. "The football team has value. You do the rest of it for the football team."

So we were back to the football team.

"Of course we're back to the football team," said Westfall. The county executive believes that the dome was worth it even if the Rams were a "mediocre football team," which they are not, of course. Buzz is looking for winning Rams teams for years to come.

"I would have been happy to have NFL football here if they had been mediocre for 10 years. We are better off with a mediocre NFL team than without one at all, and the stadium serves as a convention center. Beyond the wildest dreams, it's served its dual purpose. There wasn't any question when we did it; we had to do it that way or it could never have sold. In hindsight, it worked out beautiful."

Will Buzz back the Cardinals' bid for a new stadium? "The trouble with the Cardinals situation is that the stadium looks nicer now than it ever did. That's only what the fans see," says Westfall, who says he will support a new baseball stadium "if the Cardinals are willing to put up enough of their own money -- and I don't know what "enough' is. There is no way I would support a stadium entirely financed by the public. If they put a huge chunk of money toward it and they could do other things besides a stadium, like a development area, I'll support it. I'll support it. It would mean that much to downtown."

Another elected official on hand for the premiere of the video was U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, who was willing to take some credit for the dome but distanced himself from the Cardinals dilemma. "I signed the measure that resulted in the TWA Dome, and I think it was the right thing to do at the time. I think it's been good for the community," Ashcroft said, but he dodged the Cardinals issue. "The governor and the Legislature will have to take a look at that and weigh the advantages and see what the opportunities are."

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