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Drive for NFL Team Advances in Irvine

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Advancing their longshot bid to build a professional football stadium at El Toro Marine base, Irvine officials Tuesday granted a Los Angeles investment group a chance to put together a deal.

Southern California Sports Group, which includes former USC football star Anthony Davis, says it has lined up nearly $500 million from investors willing to finance the stadium, which would be built at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station when the base closes next year.

The City Council, meeting in closed session, unanimously approved “a program to work with the Southern California Sports Group with [the goal] of bringing a National Football League team to Irvine,” City Atty. Joel Kuperberg said.

In the next several weeks, he said, the city “will negotiate an exclusive agreement to provide the framework for that.”

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The investment group had sought development rights in exchange for raising $500 million to build the stadium.

Davis, whose football prowess at USC in the early 1970s made him one of the most celebrated players in the school’s history, said after the meeting, “I’m very happy with this decision. I’d love to see professional football come back to Southern California.”

The region has not had a team since the Rams moved from Anaheim to St. Louis in 1993.

The investment group proposes to build a privately financed stadium on 440 acres of El Toro base land, which is now owned by the federal government and would have to be conveyed to the city.

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To lure a National Football League team to Southern California, Irvine first would have to convince the league that its plan is viable. That would involve lining up a team owner, then matching the investors’ $500 million with money to recruit players and coaches, and cover other expenses.

Mayor Christina L. Shea, who maintains that the stadium could be built without public funds, said she plans to approach local multimillionaires with the proposal.

The city and the investor group--which also includes Donn F. Morey, a development consultant who worked on the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and Irvine financial planner Walter Burrows--are entering a crowded playing field with their plan.

Five stadium proposals are being considered in Los Angeles County, supported by powerful backers such as Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz and Mayor Richard Riordan, who favor the L.A. Coliseum as a site. And NFL officials have said they would prefer the team to be in Los Angeles.

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Irvine city leaders and the Davis group say they are optimistic, though, about their chances.

“I think this is the best site in the U.S. for an NFL stadium,” Davis said.

He added that in the adjacent open space near the Santa Ana Freeway, his group hopes to build an international sports museum with exhibit halls and an entertainment complex.

“It can also be a great place for family entertainment. Families could come for a weekend of activities instead of just a day game,” he said.

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The stadium proposal is one of several alternatives being offered by those who oppose plans to convert the El Toro base to a commercial airport.

But the Davis group and Irvine officials say the stadium proposal would be viable even if a commercial airport were built, for the two projects would be on different parts of the property.


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