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Inconsistencies Muddle Talk of Santa Ana Sports Arena

Times Staff Writer

In Orange County, officials of MCA Inc. and Spectacor Management Group said last week that they are investing in a planned indoor arena in Santa Ana, have chosen a firm to do an environmental impact study and are “very close” to naming an architect.

The implication of these remarks was that a 20,000-seat Santa Ana facility will get started very soon, well before a competing proposal for an indoor arena in Anaheim could get off the ground.

But in Los Angeles, where the same business partners, MCA and Spectacor, are private managers of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a facility that could be in direct competition with any new arena in Orange County, the same officials talked differently.

They said it is highly questionable whether a Santa Ana arena will go forward at all, much less soon, and they reportedly gave worried Los Angeles Coliseum Commission officials, who run the Sports Arena, assurances that they were not even particularly serious about building such an arena.

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Home of Clippers

The Sports Arena is the home of the Los Angeles Clippers, a National Basketball Assn. franchise whose move to Orange County--considered a possibility--could prove to be essential as a financial underpinning before any Orange County arena is built.

Antonio G. Tavaras, president of Spectacor, told reporters in Orange County on Monday that a final agreement with Santa Ana will be signed in the coming weeks, although he also cautioned that for the company to make the project succeed financially, a sports franchise will have to be obtained.

In an interview with a Times reporter Thursday, however, Tavaras said a Santa Ana arena was “five years down the road,” and his business partner, Irving Azoff, chairman of the MCA Music Entertainment Group, said Friday that he has his doubts whether it will ever come to fruition.

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Meanwhile, the general manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena, Joel Ralph, said the private managers had told Coliseum officials not to take the threat of a competing Orange County arena seriously. Building such an arena is nowhere near as close as the statements made in Orange County would indicate, he said.

Asked by a reporter in Los Angeles for an explanation for the difference between what MCA and Spectacor were saying in Orange County and Los Angeles, Tavaras suggested that they may have been misunderstood in Orange County. However, separate reporters in two different newspapers in Orange County had quoted them in substantially the same way.

The contradictory statements were a reminder of a situation that occurred last January when the owner of the Clippers, Donald T. Sterling, was quoted in the same week as saying in Orange County that he might move his team there, and in Los Angeles County, that he was definitely going to remain in Los Angeles.

Since then, Sterling has been more consistent. Last week, he was saying in both places that he plans to stay in Los Angeles, although he has suggested that he will not sign a long-term lease to play in the Sports Arena unless its managers agree to tear down the place and build an $85-million, 22,500-seat facility. Sports Arena officials have given no sign they are willing to do that.

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Some of those involved in the maneuvering have suggested privately that regardless what Sterling might say, there is a fair chance that the Clippers will end up in Orange County. They reason that he will not get what he is asking for in Los Angeles, and that his team would be in a stronger competitive position, out of the shadow of the highly successful Los Angeles Lakers, if it played in Santa Ana or Anaheim.

Sterling, this reasoning goes, would not want to say that he was quitting Los Angeles years before a new arena was ready in Orange County. He would only hurt his ticket sales and general fan interest in Los Angeles.

As for Orange County prospects to obtain an NBA team, an expansion franchise, or a third franchise in the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area coming from elsewhere, is not considered highly likely. For would-be arena builders in Santa Ana or Anaheim, it may be the Clippers or nothing.

When asked about the contradictory statements, Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young said he was not surprised.

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Keeping Options Open

“I suppose it’s entirely possible to get different versions” in Los Angeles and Orange County, he said. “I think a lot of these seemingly contradictory comments are nothing more than people keeping their negotiating options open.”

Young said of Tavaras and Azoff: “When we talk to them, they’re nothing but supportive. They’re saying, ‘How fast can we move forward?’ ”

But, the mayor said, “since all the financial details have not been worked out, I suspect the various players are leaving just as much hedging space as they can, until we have a firm deal.”

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At the Coliseum-Sports Arena complex, officials were not so understanding. Ralph suggested that the Coliseum’s private management contract with MCA and Spectacor bars the partners from participating in construction of any stadium within a 75-mile radius, which would include Santa Ana. However, a check of the contract showed that only Spectacor is so barred. An exception is made for MCA.


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