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Editor's Weekly: Valentine's Day thoughts on whether to call it quits with the Rams

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 8, 2013 - Dear Beaconites -

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, St. Louisans are facing a moment of truth in our relationship with the Rams. Gone are the romantic days when the Greatest Show on Turf played to smitten crowds in a spiffy new facility. As St. Louisans and the Rams approach our 20th anniversary together, neither the stadium nor the team looks nearly so glamorous as they once did.

And now the pre-nup agreement is kicking in. It gives the Rams the right to walk out in 2015 if the stadium is not in the top tier of NFL facilities. A week ago, arbitrators agreed with the team that the Edward Jones Dome needs $750 million in improvements to keep up with the Joneses of the league.

That's "very unlikely" to happen, said the Convention and Visitors Commission, adding: “The more likely outcome of this proceeding will be that effective March 15, 2015, the Rams lease will be converted to a year-to-year lease. The Rams' decision with regard to its plans beyond that date is of course up to them."

So is this the end? And if so, should we care?

Answering those questions requires both fact finding and soul searching. Beacon reporter Dale Singer's perceptive analysis this week supplied some of both.

Is this the end? Not necessarily. It's the beginning of a new phase of bargaining. The arbitration ruling gives the Rams additional leverage to push for a retractable roof and other improvements or perhaps a whole new stadium.

But while the Rams can demand luxury, they can't force anyone to pay for it. Already, the governor and state legislative leaders have said, "Don't look at us." In recent years, with cities' finances in crisis, team owners and the NFL have had to take a bigger role in funding improvements themselves.

Meanwhile, the team's most promising new suitor, Los Angeles, has other potential prospects. League officials might prefer to leave the Rams here and instead move weaker teams from other cities.

In other words, the door might be open to negotiating a reasonable deal that would keep the Rams here.

What's reasonable? In theory, you could calculate that by comparing the value the Rams add to the region and the cost of keeping them. But, as Dale's reporting explains, it's hard to put a dollar value on the economic benefit the team generates and even harder to assess the emotional boost of being a big league city.

“No company is going to go, St. Louis has a football team, let’s move our headquarters there,” said Glenn MacDonald, a Washington U. economics professor. “But a company may say, St. Louis is a thriving place, there are a lot of things going on there, they’re growing. That’s an entirely different argument."

Before St. Louis snagged the Rams, there was a desperate edge to our quest for a team. Civic leaders saw pro football as the keystone of a successful convention center, and the convention center as a keystone of a successful downtown. That thinking reflected a top-down, big project approach to building St. Louis' future.

These days, that thinking has evolved. Big projects such as redesigning the area around the Arch and creating the Plant Science Center still play an important role in the region's revitalization strategy. But so does cultivation of smaller scale entrepreneurs and innovators. You can see that happening in work on the Delmar Loop high speed media hub, in the proliferation of Cherokee arts venues and in various crowd funding and grassroots promotional efforts.

Should we care if the Rams leave? Of course. But perhaps not as desperately as we cared about luring them here. Their presence will not solve our economic and image issues, nor would their departure leave us entirely in the lurch.

As negotiations continue, the Beacon will continue to report on the questions and context that can help St. Louisans determine whether -- and at what cost -- our relationship with the Rams is worth saving.