Anaheim Seals Disney Angels Deal

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As more than 250 people looked on, the City Council sealed a deal Tuesday night that keeps the California Angels in Anaheim for more than 20 years but under new management: Walt Disney Co.

And several changes are in the works: The team will be called the Anaheim Angels or the Angels of Anaheim starting next season, and stadium seating will be reduced to give it a more intimate flavor akin to old-style ballparks.

After months of bitter infighting and public debate, the council, as expected, voted 3 to 2 to approve a new lease with Disney, paving the way for the entertainment giant to expand its sports holdings with the purchase of minority interest in the Angels from team founder Gene Autry. Disney, which already owns the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim professional hockey team, eventually plans to buy the ballclub outright.


The road to sealing a final deal has been a bumpy one, with Disney at one point seemingly abandoning its plans to buy the team and the city being faced with the possible departure of the Angels in 2001.

But on Tuesday, both parties celebrated yet another partnership in their intertwined histories, which began in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland, an event that put Anaheim on the map.

Disney Sports Enterprises President Tony Tavares said he will sign legal agreements in Burbank today, finalizing the company’s partial purchase of the team.

“This is taking much too long,” Tavares said. “Certainly there’s some relief.”

Mayor Tom Daly, one of the staunchest advocates of the deal, was especially elated Tuesday and said, “This is a good, fair agreement. It secures major league baseball in Anaheim and in Orange County for many years to come. It means that Anaheim Stadium will become one of the best ballparks in America, and the best part of the agreement is that a private enterprise is shouldering most the burden.”


The council’s vote was a foregone conclusion. A majority, consisting of Daly and council members Lou Lopez and Frank Feldhaus, had already approved a tentative agreement on April 3. None had changed their positions since then.

The agreement was opposed by Councilmen Bob Zemel and Tom Tait, who maintain that it will hurt the city’s finances. Taxpayers must pay $30 million of the $100-million cost to renovate the stadium.


“Anaheim will survive and it will thrive because of the people who live here,” Zemel said. “But I think the people of Anaheim are going to look very hard at government and what we’re doing. It is my feeling that people will get very involved in their local election this November.”

Zemel had accused his colleagues of trying to “railroad” the deal through with a minimum of public involvement and characterized the negotiations as a “backroom” deal that excluded parties opposed to it.

Although Tuesday’s vote lacked suspense, the council chambers was crowded with people who wanted a final say.

The historic meeting was disrupted for more than 30 minutes by a power outage apparently caused by a transformer problem at a substation.

The meeting eventually resumed without microphones and air conditioning and in dim emergency lighting. But the situation did not deter dozens of people from having a final say on the stadium deal.

Anaheim resident Treva Brown said, “I think what happened here tonight with the lights was kind of providential. I truly don’t understand this rush to judgment. I really am trying to keep an open mind, but I can’t do it in this length of time.”



Sharon Ericson, an Anaheim resident and former president of the city’s employees association, urged the council to place the matter before the voters.

“This is how you find out the will of the people,” Ericson said. “I don’t believe because we voted you into office, it means that we voted to allow you to spend all of our money.”

But many spoke in favor of the deal.

Among them was former Mayor Jack Dutton, who was on the council when the city decided to build the stadium in the mid-1960s.

“They couldn’t have a better partner in Disney,” Dutton said. “When it comes to marketing, they are unsurpassed.”

Resident Carole Stanley said the evening was historically significant.

“Gentlemen, the eyes of the whole world are watching us tonight. This is going to put the city of Anaheim on the map bigger than ever before.”

The council’s action came almost a year to the day that Disney first announced its plans to purchase the team. At that time, few could have predicted the painstaking 12 months of negotiations and political battles that were to come.


Baseball owners approved Disney’s purchase of 25% and operational control of the ballclub in January, but Disney added a last-minute condition that it would not go forward with the purchase until it resolved stadium renovation and lease issues with the city.

The two sides eventually agreed to split the renovation finding 70-30, with Disney paying the larger portion.

The negotiations reached their lowest point in mid-March when Disney emphatically declared the baseball deal dead, blaming its collapse mainly on the city’s goal to build Sportstown Anaheim. an entertainment, retail and sports complex proposed for Anaheim Stadium property.


The two sides quietly resumed negotiations after Angel Executive Vice President Jackie Autry threatened to move the team from Anaheim after its lease expired in 2001 and vowed to block any progress on Sportstown.

The final deal strikes a compromise on Sportstown, allowing the city to move forward with its plans for the complex, but on a smaller scale that leaves room for a football stadium to be built next to the Big A.

Disney will take over operations of the city-owned stadium and has the option of buying the rest of the team upon the death of Gene Autry, who is 88. The Angels enter into a 33-year lease with the city but have the option of breaking the lease after 20 years.


The most controversial aspect of the deal has been the city’s decision to use $30 million of taxpayer funds to contribute toward the renovation. The city will get this money from three sources: $10 million from stadium advertising revenue; $10 million in hotel bed tax revenue; and $10 million from city reserves, which currently stand at more than $110 million.

In recent weeks, both sides have maintained that the city is actually paying only 20% of the cost. They say that the $10-million portion of outdoor stadium advertising profits, previously stated to be city money, is actually Disney money since the company is now willing to make up any revenue shortfalls in this area.

While most agree that the city should pay for some of the renovation cost, many are troubled that the final lease agreement makes it very difficult for the city to directly recoup its investment, while Disney will get to keep virtually all of the stadium revenue from things such as admission tickets and parking unless certain high thresholds are met.

The city will also continue to pay $9.3 million in stadium debt, pay up to $500,000 a year in stadium possessory income tax, and must look elsewhere in the city coffers for the $300,000 a year that came from the stadium fund to help run the offices of the city manager and the city attorney.

But city officials said their ability to hold 10 events in the stadium parking lot each year, such as home shows, and the development of Sportstown will eventually enable them to make their investment back.


Deal Points

The heart of Anaheim’s deal with Disney for the operation and renovation of Anaheim Stadium is financial. Highlights of the arrangement:


* Renovation costs: Disney will contribute $70 million and Anaheim $30 million.

* Revenue: Disney will operate the stadium and retain all monies until income thresholds are met.

* Parking: City will provide 12,500 ground level spaces on site for baseball.

* Lease: 33 years (three years for renovation and 30 for operation); Disney may bail out after 20 years of operation.

* Stadium name: Team may sell stadium name provided that “Anaheim” remains in title.

* Team name: Will change to Anaheim Angels or Angels of Anaheim by 1997 season.

* Sportstown: City’s ambitious plans for sports and entertainment complex scaled back to about 40 acres. Deal leaves room for new football stadium to be built.

Sources: City of Anaheim and Times reports

What’s Next

* Today: Angel staff members learn what jobs will be available with Disney Baseball Enterprises, which replaces Golden West Baseball as operators of the team.

* Oct. 1: Disney officially assumes control of team and stadium operations; new lease takes effect.

* October: $100-million stadium renovation scheduled to begin at the end of the current baseball season.


* March 1997: Renamed Anaheim Angels or Angels of Anaheim begin new season with renovation scheduled to be completed.

Sources: City of Anaheim and Walt Disney Co.


Stadium workers wait and worry about their future. A16