L.A. Clippers Decide Against Anaheim Move

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles Clippers basketball team announced Thursday that it will not move to the Pond of Anaheim, after negotiations with the company that manages the arena collapsed.

The breakdown in talks disappointed Anaheim officials, some of whom were willing to contribute several million dollars in taxpayer funds toward a financial incentive package to add the Clippers to the growing list of professional sports teams that play at the Pond, including the National Hockey League's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Anaheim officials and Ogden Corp., which operates the city-owned arena, sought to woo the team after it notified the Sports Arena on Saturday of its intent to end its lease at that facility, where it has played since moving from San Diego in 1984.

"We are grateful and extremely flattered that such interest was accorded our organization," Clipper Executive Vice President Andy Roeser said. "However, we have decided that in the best interest of the franchise, the Clippers intend to continue playing at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. We will continue to pursue new arena options in metropolitan Los Angeles."

According to senior NBA sources, Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling rejected a 12-year package worth $95 million--to be paid by Ogden and the city--to move to Anaheim.

The Clippers would have received $48 million in tax incentives over the life of the contract. In the first year, the team would have been given $4.5 million in cash, followed by $5 million the next year, $5.5 million the third year, then $6 million in each of the next three years.

There was to have been a $10-million loan, plus $2 million for new locker rooms and $2 million more for new offices at the Pond. It was not clear how much, if any, money would have come from the city of Anaheim.

It was understood that Sterling, who lives and works in Beverly Hills, felt good about both Anaheim and Ogden, but in the end simply wanted to stay in Los Angeles, where he grew up.

The Clippers, who have played 15 regular season games in Anaheim over the last three seasons, plan to play six regular season games and one exhibition at the Pond next season.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said he believes the Clippers made a mistake in declining to move to the Pond, which in its three years of operation has become the home of such professional sports teams as the Anaheim Splash (indoor soccer), Anaheim Piranhas (arena football) and Anaheim Bullfrogs (roller hockey).

"The Pond of Anaheim is a hugely popular arena in a great location, and that's not going to change," Daly said. "In fact, it will only become better in future years. I'm sure the entire NBA recognizes the opportunity the league is missing by not finding a way to place a team at the Pond."

The city is under some pressure to find a professional basketball team for the arena.

According to the Pond lease agreement, next year the city will have to begin paying Ogden $1.5 million annually toward the arena's mortgage for each year that it is without an NBA team. That financial obligation has a cap of five years and $7.5 million.

John Nicoletti, a spokesman for Ogden, said the company will continue to look for another NBA team, "whether it's the Clippers or another franchise. We're going to continue doing what this building has been doing since it was on the drawing board--bring an NBA team to Orange County."

Pat Lynch, Coliseum/Sports Arena general manager, was elated that the Clippers have decided to remain at the Sports Arena, the oldest facility now used by an NBA club.

"It's great news for us," Lynch said. "Now it's time to move ahead and get to work on a new arena."

Lynch hopes to build an $84-million to $90-million arena seating 18,700 in the parking lot just south of the Sports Arena. The new arena would include 84 luxury suites, 1,100 club seats and a practice facility like that of America West Arena in Phoenix, home of the Suns.

But a new arena is a long way from reality. The Coliseum Commission must first secure a new lease from the state, which owns the land under the Sports Arena and Coliseum. The current lease, which expires in 2005, doesn't include the land where the new arena is planned.

"We've got the plans done, we've got the architectural rendering and we've got the cost estimates," Lynch said. "But we have a lot of work to be done. We have to secure financing, which is the next big step after the land lease."

The Clippers still must sign a new lease with the Sports Arena. The team signed a 10-year lease after moving to Los Angeles in 1984, then signed a three-year lease in 1994 with the option to terminate at the end of each season.

The Clippers' decision to remain in Los Angeles was not the first blow to Anaheim's recent professional sports endeavors.

The city, which lost the Rams to St. Louis in 1995, had hoped to replace the National Football League team with the Seattle Seahawks. Owner Ken Behring announced that he planned to move his team to Southern California, possibly Anaheim.

But the Seahawks, after setting up offices and a training facility in Anaheim, returned to Seattle in April under the threat of legal action by local authorities in Washington.

A bright spot in the city's professional sports dealings was a deal with Walt Disney Co. that will keep the California Angels baseball team at Anaheim Stadium for 20 more years. Those negotiations were painstaking and at one point called off by Disney.

"It takes a lot out of you," City Manager James D. Ruth said of the series of high-profile talks. "But that's the nature of a city this size. You just have to hang in there, keep working and keep exploring other opportunities."

City officials Thursday were trying to figure out what went wrong with the Clippers negotiations.

Councilman Lou Lopez met with Ogden officials for breakfast Thursday and said all appeared to be going well.

"We thought we were headed in the right direction, but they just called it off," Lopez said. "I had felt good about the way things were going. They just didn't want to talk anymore. I'm shocked and disappointed."

Councilman Frank Feldhaus speculated that Sterling was using the negotiations with Ogden to improve his team's situation in Los Angeles.

"I think Sterling is playing a game and leveraging the city of Los Angeles to build him a new sports facility," Feldhaus said.

Councilman Bob Zemel said he believes the Sports Arena "is a very difficult complex to suit the needs of the NBA. I gotta believe the Clippers are going somewhere else."

Feldhaus and other council members had expressed reluctance to contribute money to help lure the Clippers to Anaheim.

But Daly and Lopez had been openly supportive of offering some kind of financial incentive because the city stands to lose millions of dollars if the Pond doesn't land an NBA team by next season.

Times sports editor Bill Dwyre and staff writer Martin Henderson contributed to this report.

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