ST. LOUIS — Negotiations over splitting the $790 million from the Rams settlement appear likely to stretch on long enough that one of the parties wants to move the money into investments with higher returns.
St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which owns The Dome at America’s Center where the Rams played, have been haggling for over six months on how to split up the $790 million the league and team agreed to pay to settle a 2017 lawsuit over their move to Los Angeles.
After attorney fees, there’s some $500 million from the settlement that the city, county and dome authority — known as the RSA — need to divvy up. But there’s been little information released publicly about the progress of those negotiations since the settlement was announced in November.
The information that trickled out Wednesday indicated an agreement wasn’t close. The RSA board unanimously approved a motion at its Wednesday board meeting urging the city and county to agree to move the money to new investment funds while negotiations play out.
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“With today’s rates, it’s $15 million a year we’re missing out on, versus $2 million with where the money is now,” RSA member Dave Spence said. “That is too obvious of a move and it doesn’t affect anything in negotiations. And in the current rate environment, we would not be doing our fiduciary responsibility. … I would love to see the person that says don’t do it in the city or the county.”
That money could be earning higher returns for a while. The Rev. Earl Nance Jr., who recently became chairman of the RSA after Gov. Mike Parson replaced longtime chair Jim Shrewsbury, said it “might” be months more before the three parties reach agreement.
“Hopefully sooner,” Nance said. “Something might break.”
Asked if he thought it might be split in thirds among the three parties, Nance replied: “I think that’s fair, but that’s not what’s happening.”
Former Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who runs a consulting and mediation firm, is apparently facilitating talks between the three parties. During the meeting, Nance said he thought the board should “work with Sly James” and “go back into negotiations without delay.”
For the RSA, the clock is ticking. Money the entity has used to pay its three-person staff and other operating expenses — largely generated through interest from a bond reserve account held on the recently-retired Dome debt — is running out.
Marty Finn, RSA assistant executive director, said there’s enough money to pay expenses through this year. But it’s counting on the settlement money to continue operating, and if negotiations go into next year “I don’t think we’ll make it through the remaining calendar year,” he said.
The RSA, Nance said, needs to “take responsibility for fighting for the amount of funds that we know we need to continue running this Dome and for the Dome to exist.”
Erv Switzer, a Greensfelder attorney who is representing the RSA in negotiations with the city and county, declined to comment on the negotiations.
Doug Moore, a spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, said it made sense to move the money into higher-earning securities during negotiations. But he said it wouldn’t be “appropriate to comment while the mediation process is ongoing.”
Nick Dunne, a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, said in a statement that the city couldn’t discuss the negotiations but that any funds the city gets “must be invested responsibly with an eye towards our children and grandchildren — not the next election cycle.”
The 11-member board is made up of five state appointees and three each from the city and county — the three governments that financed construction of the Dome when the Rams moved here from Los Angeles in 1995. Nance is a city appointee whose term expired just last month.
Open and transparent
Three of Parson’s five appointees on Wednesday signaled support for a resolution commission member Joe Blanner proposed. It called for “actions to ensure that future discussions and processes regarding the allocation and use of Settlement Funds … be conducted in an open and transparent manner while recognizing that some level of confidentiality in negotiations can sometimes make negotiations more effective.”
The resolution also called for using the funds “in a way that creates a long-lasting, significant economic impact on the City and County.”
Nance said the board should heed advice from its counsel and not pass the resolution, saying that “we have no business telling the city and the county what to do with their share of the money.”
Blanner said the resolution was “merely a statement of purpose and intent.”
“To commit ourselves to openness and transparency is a good idea,” he said. “No one is trying to cast any negative light at the process. … No one is trying to cast any negative light at any elected or appointed officials.”
Spence asked Switzer about his opinion that the resolution could be “opening us up to unnecessary exposure.” Switzer said he didn’t want to discuss his legal opinion in an open meeting.
The board tabled the resolution.
Spence and Blanner both supported language circulated late in the Missouri legislative session that would have expanded the RSA’s powers and required a two-thirds vote for the RSA to spend the settlement money. The legislation didn’t pass.