Anaheim Urged to Deal With Disney on Big A Revamp

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the strongest show of public support since the Walt Disney Co. and the city began negotiating a deal to renovate Anaheim Stadium and keep the California Angels playing there, dozens of people, including former Angel and Disney brass, urged the City Council on Tuesday to reach a deal with the entertainment giant.

Jack Lindquist, former president of Disneyland, said of Anaheim and Disney: "Whether you all like it or not, you are married for life."

Lindquist, speaking at a crowded City Council meeting, called Disney's proposal to pay for $70 million worth of the estimated $100 million in renovations a good one and said it gives Anaheim a chance "to become one of the major sports capitals in the United States."

A majority of the council has indicated support for the cost-sharing offer, but other points of the deal--including a new lease for the Angels--still need to be worked out.

The council met for 2 1/2 hours behind closed doors Tuesday night to weigh the latest offer from Disney, emerging grim-faced and refusing to comment. The two parties have been meeting virtually around the clock in recent days trying to reach a final agreement before a Disney-imposed deadline Sunday, city officials said.

As the evening wore on, top city officials paced outside, and several Disney officials waited for the council to emerge, including Disney Sports Enterprises President Tony Tavares, who has been a lead negotiator.

If an agreement is not reached by Sunday, Disney has the option of walking away from its partial purchase of the Angels, leaving majority owners Gene and Jackie Autry in search of a new buyer.

Sources said some troublesome issues that remain include the length of a new lease, which the city has said must be for at least an additional 30 years after the current lease expires in 2001. Also unresolved are the logistics of Sportstown Anaheim, the sports, entertainment and retail complex proposed for property around the Big A, and issues surrounding the possibility of a new National Football League team coming to Anaheim.

Although some have questioned whether the city should use $30 million in taxpayer funds to help Disney renovate the multi-sport stadium into a baseball-only venue, a parade of speakers Tuesday night asked the council to be flexible.

"This is a can-do city of big dreams and making things happen," local business leader Stanley J. Pawlowski said. "A decision needs to be made. We can move forward, stand still, or move backward."

Former Angels pitcher Bert Blyleven recalled how he grew up watching Angels games at the stadium.

"It really helped me stay out of trouble," he said. "Orange County deserves a major league baseball team and I hope we never lose that in Anaheim."

Said former Anaheim City Manager Keith Murdock: "Anaheim has a history, a beautiful history based on the faith that its people and leaders have. Find a way to take the bold step."

Jackie Autry said Tuesday evening that neither side had discussed with her the possibility of extending the deadline.

"I understand many major issues were resolved and some are still unresolved," Autry said. "I don't know if there are new issues."

Disney officials declined to comment Tuesday on any of the negotiations but stressed that they do want the March 17 deadline to be met.

"We'd like to get the situation resolved by March 17 and we are working toward that," said Disney Sports Enterprises spokesman Bill Robertson. "That has been our position all along."

At least three members of the council last week had tentatively agreed to a 70-30 split on the renovation costs, with Disney paying the larger portion. Other key issues that appeared to be settled were changing the team's name to Anaheim Angels and turning over operations of the city-owned stadium to Disney.

But even those deal points did not have the endorsement of the entire council. Councilmen Bob Zemel and Tom Tait have stated their opposition to what has been presented to the council so far. But only three of the five council members need approve for the deal to be completed.

Zemel, who has been particularly vocal with his reservations, does not believe the city is guaranteed a way to recoup its $30-million investment. He has also complained that if the deal goes through it will eliminate any chance of a National Football League team playing at the Big A this fall.

City resident Jeff Kirsch asked the council Tuesday to move cautiously, and called the possibility that they would use taxpayer funds to pay for renovations "quite troubling." Kirsch said the issue deserves a more extended period of public discussion before a final decision is made.

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.

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