ST. LOUIS, Mo. --- There is nothing quite as uniquely haunted as an abandoned sports stadium. A metropolitan gathering place, where millions upon millions of people once screamed and roared and booed and drank and connected and made memories that sustain them for generations … now empty, defeated, forgotten. When you implode an old stadium, or tear it down by wrecking ball, you at least have a sense of finality. Everyone comes together to say their last goodbyes, someone pushes the plunger and down it goes. It exists only in your memory from then on, which is what allows it to exist forever, with some dignity.
(Well, as much dignity as a stadium can have being imploded by the Phanatic hitting a plunger.)
But some stadiums never get that finality. Some stadiums were once hosts for millions of people and now just … aren't. They still stand, testaments to human frailty and foolhardiness, proof of how our vision and our logic rarely walk hand in hand. They are coliseums for no one.
Here in St. Louis, there's a brand new one of these. It might not have the majesty of the Silverdome, or the yearning broken majesty of a drone video showing its vast emptiness. But it's abandoned just the same.
The Los Angeles Rams left the city of St. Louis a year ago, in a move that was almost certainly the best possible thing for the municipal area. St. Louis wouldn't let Stan Kroenke strongarm them into another massively expensive stadium after they took such a bath on the first one just 20 years ago, so he got his big real estate deal in Inglewood, California, and now he just has to sit in the Los Angeles Coliseum for a couple of years. (Which is a better deal than the Chargers have, as that franchise is playing in a soccer stadium in Carson.) St. Louis doesn't have to pay for another new stadium, one of the first cities to actively assert itself as done with public financing for sports teams. They even voted down a soccer stadium a year later. They're over it.
Considering the Edward Jones Dome, who can blame them? The former TWA Dome was an urban eyesore from the get-go, an ugly multi-purpose dome that's one defining feature was its inability to fit into any conceivable cityscape. It takes up several city blocks but never developed any reasonable interesting business around it: It has always looked like a huge mall from that sad time in recent American history when cities bragged about how big of a mall they could build.
The Rams, even when they were good, never were quite able to get that dome truly rollicking. It just wasn't that kind of dome: It was too vast and too cavernous to hold a lot of sound. It got loud -- I'm currently screaming just thinking about that Greatest Show on Turf team -- but the sound couldn't help but get lost in the Dome. It was the sort of building that felt empty even when it was full.
But now it is really empty. There is no team there. There is actually no tenant, permanent or temporary. The city of St. Louis still runs the Dome -- now called, awkwardly, "The Dome at America's Center" -- but they run it like a warehouse that gets rented out occasionally. Let the city's "Explore St. Louis" website explain it to you:
"When your meeting needs dictate lots of space and lots of options, The Dome at America's Center has everything you need."
That seems a reasonable epitaph for an unloved building: "Lots of space and lots of options!"
They're doing the best they can. They must sell whatever is possible, wring every use out of the place, because the city of St. Louis, the county of Clayton and the state of Missouri are still paying off $144 million in debt and maintenance costs, and will be doing so through the year 2021. (The NFL refused to help offset any costs when the Rams move.) So they're at least getting some use out of it. Just this week, in fact, Guns 'N' Roses will play there, for the first time since the infamous "Riverport Riot" back in 1991, a show that was ended three songs in because Axl Rose jumped into the crowd to start a fight.
But that's a rarity. Looking over the schedule, the building mostly hosts job fairs, food expos and the occasional tractor pull. The only scheduled event in September is a U2 concert; the only event in December is a Motocross qualifier. One of the ironies of the city's attempt to bring in conventions at the dome is that the place is even outdated in the public event space: Many conventioneers say it needs hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to attract the best events. That is the very definition of throwing good money after bad.
And so it sits, the occasional rock show filling the silence. Once 2021 comes, and all the debt is (presumably) paid off, it is possible that St. Louis will tear it down, perhaps to make some space for the MLS expansion team the city is still flirting with. (But wisely not just handing over the store for.) There are no longer any pictures of Rams players on the outside of the building, but they haven't been replaced with anything. It's just a big empty building taking over a third of downtown. It sits, unloved, uncared for, an eyesore and a money pit everyone would be much happier to be rid of. The city of St. Louis is better off without the Rams. But still, they can't escape them and what they did. There is no dignity in The Dome at America's Center. It lives on, much to everyone's detriment, including its own.
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