This city is a serious step closer to having a new sports/multipurpose arena and a new professional sports team--or two--to play in it by the mid-1990s, thanks to an agreement reached this week by developer Ronald Hahn and Jerry Buss, owner of the Lakers and their glittery home, the Forum.
With their lawyers drawing up the final agreements, Hahn and his LandGrant Development group have agreed to a binding partnership in which the Hahn group will build a new arena--preferably in the downtown area--and Buss will pursue a National Hockey League team for the facility, with a shared partnership in each.
Hahn said Wednesday they would like to make it a three-way deal involving Kings owner Bruce McNall, who would try to lure a National Basketball Assn. team. However, a spokesman for McNall said Wednesday that mention of him as part of the arena package is “premature.”
Scott Carmichael, Kings public relations director, said, “Bruce’s stance is supportive of anything Jerry Buss wants to do. . . . They have had a couple conversations but nothing accelerated beyond that.”
He added, however, “Bruce has always had a desire to be in the NBA, and he’s always in an acquisition mode.”
Buss, who has offices in Encinitas and in the past has spoken of building a North County home for an NHL team, will represent the group at NHL expansion meetings in December, and San Diego now is considered a prime candidate.
Another of Buss’ goals, Hahn said, will be to convince McNall to commit to the group.
“What occurred is the finalization of a process that’s been going on for six months, binding Jerry to San Diego with an NHL team, and binding the arena to working with Jerry and not anybody else,” Hahn said. “Our intent is for a three-party agreement, and Bruce McNall has been involved.”
Hahn’s group is also set to clear the last hurdle--City Council approval--in closing the long-delayed transfer of ownership of the Sports Arena lease from current leaseholder Harry Cooper. That should happen in December, and it appears to be a formality now that a labor dispute with arena workers has been settled. Hahn has been negotiating with the City Council for six months.
“Those guys going in together is a real positive thing for San Diego. We’re getting the best of both worlds,” City Councilman Ron Roberts said. Roberts has been the council’s staunchest supporter of a new arena on a downtown site, possibly the SDG&E; property or the old San Diego Transit grounds, both in the Center City East area.
“Ron is going about this in a real professional way,” Roberts said. “I’m real encouraged. I’m glad we’re getting closer.”
Hahn said in a best-case scenario, a new arena could be built by late 1994 or summer 1995, though the fall season of 1996 might be more realistic. If the group were to land pro teams before that, they could play in the existing arena.
While the NHL is courting expansion, Hahn said he is not discouraged that the NBA has struck out twice in San Diego--the Rockets left for Houston in 1971 and the Clippers moved up the freeway to Los Angeles in 1985, and NBA Commissioner David Stern said this week the league is not interested in expanding.
“With the NHL I’m very optimistic,” Hahn said. “They have an overt expansion mood right now. We just needed (the promise of) an arena. The NBA would be a tougher process. More than likely it would involve a franchise transfer.
“But I’m not discouraged about the circumstances (of the two previous teams). Those had little to do with San Diego today, with San Diego’s position in the TV market and with a new arena.”
Hahn envisions seating of about 18,500, though it could be expanded to 22,000. He said plans will include a limited number of private boxes--perhaps two dozen--but he says a season-ticket plan that packages all events, from sports to concerts to circuses, would appeal more to the market.
“I don’t believe this is a good skybox market,” he said. “We don’t have major corporate presence in San Diego. We have high discretionary income, law firms, the kind of people who will buy three or four tickets. I think that’s where the market is.”