Coming on the heels of a devastating season opener against the 49ers, the L.A. Rams will play their first home game this weekend at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, marking the first NFL regular season game here in over 20 years.
That also means that somewhere in St Louis, there’ll be a giant football stadium sitting empty.
Or does it?
First, some history: When the St. Louis Rams weren’t losing lots and lots of games inside the Dome at America's Center, it hosted conventions, trade shows, concerts. There's been boat shows, dog shows, monster truck rallies. You name it.
The Dome was built as an extension to an existing convention center in the '90s. When the Rams decided to move in, they were promised the facility would be kept in line with other NFL stadiums. But political figures didn’t keep that promise, prompting Rams owner Stan Kroenke to turn his attention and money to Inglewood, California.
This made Kroenke one of the least popular citizens in St. Louis.
"I think it’s basically we have an owner that’s disenfranchised from the city," said Karl Sides, a football fan in St. Louis. "He has no ability to embrace what St. Louis holds, like the Cardinals and Blues do. So he doesn’t care."
In an interview with KPCC's Take Two, Kroenke said he regretted how his relationship with St. Louis fell apart, but:
Where we play is not just where I play — it's where my 31 partners play. And so they expect you to do certain things, to have facilities that are up to date, and they have to work economically. It's an emotional thing. But, there's the emotional argument and then there's rational. And rationally, unless you argue that you should make a massive donation just to support with, it doesn't make any sense.
In any case, with the Rams gone, the Dome can host even more conventions, more boat shows, more dogs swimming in pools, more giant monster trucks.
But elected officials are going to have to do more than just wish and hope for more events. Kitty Ratcliffe, the head of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, says the dome has some serious problems. For one, it's hard to get large groups of people in and out. Plus, after roughly 20 years, the Dome is getting older compared to stadiums in other cities.
"And that is a challenge for us for repeat business," Ratcliffe said. "We can book them once. But getting them to come back again after they understand those challenges is a little bit harder. So we need to improve the connectivity. And we can do it."
Ratcliffe says residents will have to shell out some money to renovate the place.
But not everyone is on board with pouring public money into attracting conventions and events. Joseph Miller, a policy analyst with the conservative Show Me Institute, says the problem with St. Louis’ approach is that they’re not operating in a vacuum — larger cities have more resources to spend on attracting conventions.
"Is this an arms race that St. Louis is likely to win with any reasonable amount of expenditure to get these conventions?" Miller asked. "I think that’s a really risky idea."
Still, with no other football teams coming to St. Louis any time soon — what's the alternative?
For Dan Elfenbein, an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, leveraging the region’s existing facilities is probably the best way to move past the Rams’ departure, "especially if it’s repurposed in a way that brings folks from other places into St. Louis in order to spend money and engage in the things that we have here in the community that are entertainment, civic and cultural."
It'll be awhile before St. Louis figures out how exactly to spruce up the Dome and convention center. But until then, the facility won’t be vacant – it just won’t house a chronically underperforming football team anymore.