Fans May Be Rooting for the Anaheim Angels

TIMES STAFF WRITER

City officials and representatives of the Walt Disney Co. met again Thursday to iron out details of a 30-year lease for a renovated Anaheim Stadium and appeared to have agreed on the major deal points, including a name change for the tenants.

The California Angels will become the Anaheim Angels.

Anaheim City Councilman Lou Lopez said the name change was "important for the city. Anaheim is a sports city, and we should have the name."

A council majority tentatively agreed this week to a proposal that has the city paying $30 million of a $100-million renovation, which would convert the Big A back into a baseball-only facility.

Under terms of the current proposal, which is favored by three of five City Council members, stadium operations also would be turned over to Disney, which will get virtually all of the parking, concession and gate revenue.

A deal that seemed to be in jeopardy just one week ago, when Disney and the city were at odds over the possibility of another year of football at the Big A, now appears as though it could be finalized before a Disney-set deadline less than two weeks away.

But Disney Sports Enterprises President Tony Tavares is said to never consider a deal done until it is signed.

In its agreement to purchase a controlling interest in the Angels, Disney had insisted on the option of walking away from the purchase if it could not reach agreement with the city on stadium renovations and a renewed lease by March 17.

One marketing slogan Disney consultants have come up with for the Angels--"We play hardball"--certainly appears to apply to Disney's negotiators as well.

"We're trying to get this done as soon as possible," Tavares said. "All we've gotten to is who will pay for what and who'll run it. Then you get into the operational issues, the minutiae. Then, after that, you go into the language and the drafting of the document. And at every one of those stages, you have disagreements."

If the name change is approved by Major League Baseball, it would be a further boost to Anaheim's name recognition, already enhanced when the Disney-owned Mighty Ducks of Anaheim began using the city's name three years ago.

In the past, the naming of Anaheim's sports teams has been a sore spot with local fans and city leaders, who were never happy that the professional teams playing in Anaheim Stadium were called the Los Angeles Rams and the California Angels.

When the California Angels arrived in the city in 1966, owner Gene Autry insisted that the team could only be referred to as California or Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Rams also refused to use their hometown in their name when they moved to Anaheim in 1980.

"It always bothered the daylights out of me," said Irv Pickler, who sat on the City Council for more than 12 years and is a 40-year Anaheim resident. "How could they call themselves the California Angels? And the Los Angeles Rams? That was just sickening."

Pickler and others said the name change will provide a tremendous amount of free publicity for the city.

"The more you get the city's name out there, the better it is for the city as a tourist destination," said Elaine Cali, spokeswoman for the city's Visitor and Convention Center. "It would help promote the city and focus attention on the area."

Councilman Bob Zemel, who is adamantly opposed to the current deal, said the name change is not enough to compensate the city for spending $30 million on the renovations.

"I think it has tremendous value, but to have that justify any portion of the $30 million is ridiculous," Zemel said Thursday.

Zemel complained that the city would have to dip into its reserves to pay its share of the renovation costs, and the deal gives Disney all of the stadium's revenue--unless certain attendance thresholds are met--and eliminates any chance of bringing NFL football to Anaheim Stadium in the fall.

He said the only identifiable revenue stream the city would get from the deal hinges on the development of Sportstown Anaheim, the sports and entertainment complex the city hopes to build on land around the stadium.

"So far, [Sportstown] is a concept written on a piece of paper, and we have no idea how we are going to pay for it and who's going to build it," Zemel said.

"How can you possibly call for payments to be made on the $30 million [from tax revenue], if there is no revenue from a project, where a shovel can't go into the ground for another 2 to 3 years?"

Councilman Frank Feldhaus, irritated that some details of the negotiations have been made public, at this point favors the concept of the 70-30 split of renovation costs, but said the deal is not yet "etched in stone."

"You have someone who comes along and tells you they are going to put in $70 million, that's a pretty good offer," Feldhaus said this week. "I don't know where else you'd get that effort. It's a property that needs attention."

Times staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this report.

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