ST. LOUIS, DEC. 13 -- Government and civic leaders in the St. Louis area are trying to persuade the owner of the Cardinals to keep his NFL team here.

Details of the plan were being worked out over the weekend and a "final offer" could be made to Cardinals owner William V. Bidwill as early as Monday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which quoted unnamed sources.

The effort to keep the team here is led by Charles F. Knight, the chairman of Emerson Electric Co., and Gov. John Ashcroft, the newspaper said. The sources said the final offer could propose construction of a downtown multipurpose facility or a new downtown stadium. Knight, through a spokesman, refused to comment, the Post-Dispatch said. Ashcroft would confirm only that he has held a series of meetings. An aide to the governor said one of the meetings was with Bidwill.

Meanwhile, officials in Baltimore, Phoenix, Memphis and Jacksonville, Fla., continue to woo the Cardinals. Last week, Bidwill told civic officials in Columbus, Ohio, that he would not move his team there.

He has complained for several years that Busch Stadium, where his Cardinals play, is too small for him to compete favorably in the NFL.

Last March, he signed a nonbinding letter of intent with St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary, stating that his team would play in a $160 million domed stadium, if one were provided. That deal fell through because of financial and legal obstacles, and Bidwill promptly rejected a compromise 70,500-seat open-air stadium.

The Boston Globe reported that the National Football League has warned him that he might have to pay millions of dollars to move the team from St. Louis.

Such a payment could result from a lawsuit that developed after the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. Raiders owner Al Davis won the suit and the NFL appealed. In the appeal, the NFL argued that, had Davis not moved his team, the league could have put an expansion franchise in Los Angeles. The NFL claims that, because the league charges millions of dollars for expansion teams, Davis should compensate the league for depriving it on an expansion market.

That appeal is scheduled for hearing April 18.