On August 24 of last year, Stan Kroenke was officially confirmed as sole owner of the Rams. Unofficially, rumors and speculation had already been flying around for weeks connecting him with the old Chrysler plant in Fenton. Jim Thomas acknowledged as much in an August 10th chat session:
bruce8080: JT, do you believe the rumor that Kroenke is looking into the Fenton, Chrysler Plant as an area to build the next Rams stadium?
Jim Thomas: I could be wrong, but I thought I'd heard that he has put in a bid to buy the land. It is a fascinating possibility. On the one hand, it could be land used for a Wal-Mart super center -- and more. Then again, it would be one way to get around the stadium lease situation. (And as he has shown in Denver, Kroenke does like to have control of revenue streams.)
The speculation simply makes too much sense to ignore: Kroenke's development company, THF Realty, is known for engineering land development deals for retail properties on disused (and cheap) suburban property, garnering tax increment financing and government subsidy along the way. Kroenke Sports Enterprise operates in the same way, having built the Pepsi Center in Denver to house the NBA's Nuggets and NHL's Avalanche. And the stadium lease expiration clause that requires the Ed Jones Dome to be among the top 25% of NFL stadiums in revenue production (a fiscal impossibility) by 2014 was already well publicized.
In the sixteen years since the Dome was built, nineteen new NFL stadiums have opened. There was little doubt that the new Rams owner would want one too.
The Chrysler property -- 5 million square feet of available space, with demolition already underway -- is located in a shopping-rich area neatly placed halfway between downtown and Six Flags, the fringe between suburbia and exurbia where sports franchises seem to be roosting. And its connection to tens of thousands of local jobs and millions of tons of six-cylinder American steel makes it a sentimentally perfect new home for our football team.
What we don't have is any confirmation of the rumors. But today, an important piece of the puzzle fell into place: according to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Fenton and the state of Missouri are creating an "Enhanced Enterprise Zone" for the 295-acre plant site and its surrounding area.
The EEZ is a blend of state tax credits and local property tax abatements meant to spur new construction, job creation and economic growth, and is very much a part of the Kroenke Sports Enterprise model. (In fact, the Pepsi Center received $41 million in tax-increment financing to help defray construction cost.) While Kroenke's name has yet to surface in direct connection with the property, an all-important roadblock just fell.