Update 5:30 p.m. Los Angeles has long been a pawn in the NFL chess game, with owners in other cities using the threat of moving here to exact concessions from politicians.
But Tom Bateman, director of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, thinks the Rams could really be coming here.
“I think my first reaction was, 'oh wow,'" Bateman said, after hearing the news late Thursday that a company associated with St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchased a 60-acre piece of land in Inglewood. “Our confidence was emboldened. It was certainly a shot in the arm.”
Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, which has over 25,000 fans on Facebook, started five years ago, when businessman Edward Roski announced plans to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry.
That hasn’t gone much of anywhere. Neither has AEG’s plan to build a stadium downtown, which they want to call Farmers Field. Bateman is hopeful this time will be different.
- Ben Bergman
Previously: A company tied to St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a prime piece of land in Inglewood amid speculation the NFL franchise is considering a return to the city it left for the Midwest nearly two decades ago.
Team officials on Friday provided a written statement confirming the recent purchase of a 60-acre site near the Forum indoor arena and adjacent to the shuttered Hollywood Park racetrack. The Los Angeles Times first reported the purchase.
"As real estate developers, the Kroenke Organizations are involved in numerous real estate deals across the country and North America," the statement said. "While we can confirm media reports that we recently purchased land in Inglewood, as a private company we don't typically discuss our plans for commercial or residential investments. We have yet to decide what we are going to do with the property but we will look at all options, as we do with all of our properties."
The land was previously owned by Wal-Mart, which hoped to build a superstore there but could not win local voter approval for the project. Kroenke is a former Wal-Mart board member who is married to the daughter of company co-founder Bud Walton and continues to build shopping centers for the retailer.
Los Angeles has lacked an NFL team since both the Rams and Raiders left in 1994. The Rams can break their 30-year lease in St. Louis after the 2014 season — a decade early — but have said little about their plans.
The Rams' lease requires the Edward Jones Dome to remain among the top quarter of the 32 NFL stadiums. The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which manages the dome, last year offered a $124 million improvement plan that included a bigger scoreboard and better club seating, with the Rams paying slightly more than half those costs.
The team countered with a far more ambitious proposal that called for a new roof with a sliding panel and a bevy of improvements that would keep the city convention center in the dome closed for three years. City leaders rejected $700 million in publicly funded upgrades sought by the team.
Speaking in New York before Sunday's Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was informed of the Kroenke purchase and noted that any stadium development plan would require approval from NFL owners, three-fourths of whom must endorse a team relocation.
"We're aware of it," Goodell said. "There are no plans, to my knowledge, of a stadium development. Anything that would require a stadium development would require multiple votes of the membership."
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has taken over negotiations with the Rams and Kroenke after arbitration between the team, the commission and the stadium authority failed. James Shrewsbury, chairman of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which owns the downtown dome, referred questions about the Los Angeles purchase to the governor.
"It's hard to comment on it since we don't know what his purpose is," Shrewsbury said, referring to Kroenke, who could not be reached for comment. "He hasn't said what he plans to do with it."
The St. Louis Cardinals football team moved to Arizona in 1987, and the city went nearly a decade without a franchise until the Los Angeles Rams arrived in 1995.