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Builder Downsizes Plan for CSUN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To the dismay of university officials, a developer hoping to build a sports and recreation complex at Cal State Northridge disclosed Tuesday that his $50-million plan may not even include a new football stadium, which CSUN has considered a priority.

Woodland Hills businessman Mark Steele also admitted that the university would have to pay a $3.5-million annual user fee for the new complex, which would be built at its 65-acre North Campus property and is meant to generate income for CSUN instead of debt.

The revelations, made during the last portion of a two-day public hearing on Steele’s and three other finalists’ plans for the land, drew extensive questions and comments that showed a clear dampening of enthusiasm for the project.

“It seems this places the university at more risk for not making money,” said Marc Levine, president of CSUN Associated Students. Levine is a board member of the North Campus/University Park Development Corp., the campus auxiliary group that is scheduled to recommend a developer at its March 25 meeting.

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But Steele countered that his proposal would nevertheless transform the area at the old Devonshire Downs racetrack, between Lassen and Devonshire streets, from “a suburb to a somewhere.” He promised to recruit professional ice hockey and volleyball teams as well as concerts and other special events to make his complex financially viable.

“This project will provide a much-needed economic stimulus to CSUN and the San Fernando Valley,” Steele said. He also maintained that the university’s annual income from the project would be great enough to cover his user fee and still net no less than a $100,000 profit for the campus.

Although Steele’s original plan included a rebuilt and enlarged campus football stadium, he admitted Tuesday that his latest proposal does not include such funding unless the university allows its use for more commercial events than initially discussed. Instead, he proposed making only a $1-million contribution toward a revamped stadium, which could cost as much as $10 million.

Steele’s current proposal still includes a 9,000-seat indoor arena, indoor tennis courts, health club and several restaurants--all of which his company would finance in exchange for the university’s $3.5-million annual user fee.

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Despite Steele’s assurance of profits for the university, CSUN officials worry about their risk.

“This obviously is a project that has great, exciting prospects for the university and the community. It also has some perplexing financial problems we have to deal with,” said John Rollow, the university’s development consultant for the North Campus competition. The final selection could be made in May by the Cal State University system Board of Trustees.

Meanwhile, another finalist also presented a substantially revised proposal Tuesday. Instead of a shopping center alone, Newport Beach-based Hopkins Real Estate Group on Tuesday unveiled additional plans for a 25-screen movie theater. A Hopkins representative said the combined 31-acre complex could generate $1.2 million a year for CSUN, which could be spent on a stadium or other projects.

Hopkins’ latest proposal has generated interest from such major retailers as Bristol Farms Market, Borders bookstores and Circuit City, the Hopkins partner said.

Initially, Steele had touted his and the Hopkins proposals as an option the university could select as a unit and build side-by-side. But Hopkins’ expanded proposal, by adding the theater component on land Steele plans to use, would render the two incompatible.


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