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Rams Hold Off Talks With St. Louis on Move : Sports: Dispute among owners of city's new, domed stadium is cited. Those seeking to keep the team in Anaheim take heart.

August 11, 1994|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Shaw, executive vice president of the Rams, had a message Wednesday for St. Louis officials trying to lure the National Football League team to Missouri: You had better get your act together.

In a statement issued through his public relations firm, Shaw said, "The Rams have decided to hold off on negotiations with St. Louis until they've resolved their lease issue."

Shaw's comment could be a mere ploy to pressure St. Louis, where a dispute between owners of the lease on a new, 70,000-seat domed stadium could prevent a football team from playing there in 1995. But it still sparked optimism in offices around Orange County, which is staging a major effort to keep the Rams, and Baltimore, which has been courting the team for several months.

"Anything that puts off or delays a decision is obviously good news for those of us trying to keep the Rams in Orange County," said Jack Lindquist, the former Disneyland president who is co-chairing the Save the Rams Task Force. "Every day that passes that no decision has been made to move means they're still there. That's encouraging."

The owner of baseball's Baltimore Orioles, Peter Angelos, who is attempting to purchase a minority interest in the Rams, seemed delighted that the team is frustrated with St. Louis, which also blew a shot at landing an NFL expansion team last year, in part because of conflicts over potential ownership groups as well as the stadium lease.

"Let them be mad at St. Louis--they shouldn't go there," Angelos said. "Baltimore is a much better football town, and the opportunity for the Rams here would be far more beneficial than the one in St. Louis."

St. Louis responded by announcing that Thomas Eagleton, a former U.S. senator and short-lived running mate of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972, has been named chairman of FANS Inc. (Football At the New Stadium), the nonprofit group that has been trying to secure an NFL team for the new, $258-million stadium.

The group was formed by St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and St. Louis County Executive George (Buzz) Westfall, who this week revealed details of a Rams wish list that included payment of $30 million the team still owes for Anaheim Stadium improvements.

A St. Louis source said that Rams officials were unhappy about the disclosure of many of the items on the wish, and that they would be more comfortable dealing with someone in the private sector.

City and county officials acted quickly, replacing Westfall with Eagleton as point man in negotiations with the Rams.

Now a lawyer practicing in St. Louis, Eagleton is best remembered nationally as the man who was dropped from the McGovern ticket in the days following the 1972 Democratic National Convention after the disclosure of a history of psychiatric care. It did not hurt his popularity in Missouri; he was reelected to the Senate by a landslide two years later and then served a third term before retiring in 1986.

"We needed a person outside of government whose efforts could be focused directly on the issues at hand," said Mac Scott, Westfall's director of communications. "Tom was available and expressed an interest. He may be just the thing we need to take care of these problems."

*

The problems center on St. Louis beer distributor Jerry Clinton, who controls 30% of the new stadium lease and does not appear willing to turn over his share to FANS, which controls 65%. The remaining 5% is owned by two smaller investors.

Clinton, who hopes to become an NFL owner, at one point demanded $8 million for his share, but a source said he has increased the price to $20 million. FANS offered $3.5 million to buy him out several months ago.

The lease dissolves in 1997, at which point it would revert to the St. Louis Stadium Authority. But if FANS can't come to terms with Clinton, an NFL team moving to St. Louis would be forced to play the 1995 and '96 seasons in Busch Stadium, which has 54,000 seats and no luxury suites, a potential major source of revenue for the Rams.

Further complicating matters is that Clinton has had numerous discussions with Shaw, independent of the efforts Westfall and Bosley have made.

"We're not all on the same page on the deal, which is unfortunate," Scott said. "And we're no closer with him (on settling the lease)."

Clinton could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week that he is willing to deal his share of the lease "to whatever extent it is necessary. And if that is 100% of my portion, then it's 100%, if that's what it takes to get a team.

"But John Shaw indicated he was willing to have me as a partner in this deal. I would be represented by some of my 30%, but not all. And that's fine with me."

In related news, sports agent Leigh Steinberg, Save the Rams Task Force co-chairman, said his group will present a formal proposal to keep the team in Orange County to Shaw and Rams owner Georgia Frontiere privately by Aug. 26 and make it public at a later date.

The group will not unveil its plan at the Rams booster luncheon on Aug. 19, as had previously been considered.

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