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Stadium Site Still Tough to Pin Down

Times Staff Writer

A city study of potential sites for a pro football stadium is running months behind schedule and is focusing on three downtown locations that present both new and familiar problems: the Coliseum, the Staples Center area and a rail yard near Union Station.

The city’s recurring efforts to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles have often bogged down on the difficult issue of where a team would play, and the current efforts indicate that there are still no easy solutions.

The Los Angeles County Memorial Coliseum has received a cold shoulder from the National Football League in previous city pitches, and a proposal earlier this year to build a stadium near Staples Center drew significant opposition from some city and Los Angeles County officials.

Meanwhile, Union Pacific Corp., which owns the rail yard, said the property is vital to its operations and is not for sale.

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The stadium search is further complicated by politics.

While some City Council members are jockeying to make their favorite sites the city’s preferred location in dealing with the NFL, others are questioning why the city is using taxpayer resources to help wealthy NFL owners gain access to the nation’s No. 2 television market.

“I am a huge NFL fan and I would like nothing more than to be able to get in my car and drive to an NFL game,” Councilman Jack Weiss said. “But the owners have demonstrated a record of doing everything they can to fleece cities. Why we would make it easier to fleece Los Angeles is beyond me. The NFL needs Los Angeles more than L.A. needs the NFL.”

Councilman Nick Pacheco, who is pushing hard for the rail yard, which is in his district, said the city could benefit economically if the NFL could be persuaded to return to Los Angeles.

“The more we talk about options, the more we are seen by the league as a viable site and that’s important -- that we be in the game,” Pacheco said.

All the maneuvering and study may be wasted, because the NFL could just as easily stay out of the area or pick a location outside Los Angeles if it decides to return to Southern California, observers said.

“Think of this as a primary election and each city is putting up its candidate,” said sports consultant David Carter, an advisor to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which is conducting the site study.

“Pasadena is putting up the Rose Bowl,” he said. “Other cities will put up their sites, and the CRA is trying to get to the point where the City Council can decide on its candidate.”

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The City Council in June ordered the CRA to study potential stadium sites and submit a report in early August. Redevelopment officials said this week that the study, which will cost as much as $25,000, isn’t done and may not be completed until late March 2003.

“We’re simply not there yet,” said Don Spivak, deputy administrator for the CRA.

Agency documents indicate that the CRA has whittled the list of 38 redevelopment project areas to eight. Those eight will be further analyzed to determine whether they are suitable.

The agency is looking only at redevelopment areas, which allow the agency to use its land-acquisition powers and special financing to make a stadium development more viable.

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City officials said the agency is giving special attention to the Coliseum, the Pacific Union rail yard and the Staples Center area. But Spivak said that “early findings” have not been fully reviewed by the staff.

A preliminary report noted that the Coliseum “clearly is a suitable location for a National Football League stadium.”

The Coliseum is judged “to be able to meet the needs of the League. As an existing facility, there are no necessary additional costs for site acquisition or assemblage, nor are there costs for relocation.”

Even upgrading the Coliseum would cost less than developing a totally new stadium, the report argued.

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NFL officials, including Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, have indicated that they are not interested in the Coliseum. As Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell said in June, “Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing.”

Still, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas expects that the CRA report will give new life to using the historic structure in his district.

Competing Sites

“There is no project that has more going for it at this point than the Coliseum,” Ridley-Thomas said.

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He was recently elected to the state Assembly and will move into that post within the next two weeks.

Though some observers believe that his departure from the council could reduce the momentum for the Coliseum, Ridley-Thomas said he plans to push hard in Sacramento for turning the Coliseum, which is on state land, into a state-of-the-art NFL stadium.

As for the rail yard, “I understand that it’s definitely seriously being looked at,” Pacheco said. “It’s downtown. It’s near the L.A. River, so you can do something that complements that.”

Added CRA consultant Carter, “The rail yard is certainly in the running.”

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The Union Pacific said the reason the 50-acre rail yard is not for sale is that it is essential for transferring truck trailers to and from rail cars.

However, Pacheco said, the CRA has the power to buy land and help move businesses.

The railroad’s largest shareholder is billionaire sports magnate Philip Anschutz, who was part of a group that proposed a $450-million stadium next to the Staples Center, which is owned by Anschutz.

Michael Roth, a spokesman for Anschutz, said there are no talks to bring a stadium to Anschutz’s land.

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The Anschutz Entertainment Group proposed in March to build a $450-million, 74,000-seat stadium next to the Staples Center on privately owned land that is part of a new redevelopment project area.

However, the county Board of Supervisors filed a lawsuit, alleging that the area was not blighted so the city could not justify diverting property tax funds that otherwise would go to county coffers. Also, some City Council members said they would oppose using tax money to help a stadium proposal.

Then in June, the Coliseum Commission announced that it would spend $1 million to develop its own plan for a stadium, infuriating the Anschutz group and prompting it to drop its stadium plan.

One objection to the Anschutz plan was that it interfered with the purpose of the redevelopment project, which was to increase affordable housing.

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To address that concern, the new proposal being studied by the CRA would put the stadium on about 20 acres of city-owned property used for parking that is already part of the Staples Center site.

That way a stadium would not interfere with housing production, a CRA official said.

Council President Alex Padilla, who heads a council panel overseeing the stadium selection process, has met with those involved in the Staples Center project to see if it can be made to work.

However, Roth downplayed that idea.

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“We continue to not play a role in the NFL situation vis-a-vis Los Angeles,” Roth said.

Mayor James K. Hahn supports the CRA study, but a spokesman cautioned against attributing too much importance to the study.

“This is just one look in terms of what the CRA thinks might be good locations,” said Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook.

“There are other factors,” he said. “Where do investors want to go? Where is space available. Where is the NFL interested in going? A CRA analysis is useful input but is not binding on a decision.”

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Private Investors

In fact, private investors are already looking at sites not considered by the CRA study.

Casey Wasserman, owner of the L.A. Avengers arena football team, confirmed last week that he has been looking into buying the 32-story Transamerica Center and surrounding properties for a possible stadium in South Park.

That area is within the recently adopted City Center Redevelopment Plan, but CRA Commissioner Doug Ring said the pending stadium study is not considering that site.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

8 possible sites

The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency recently looked at the 38 redevelopment project areas in the city and identified eight that would accommodate a stadium and should be evaluated. The eight redevelopment project areas being analyzed are:

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* City Center Project, an 879-acre area that includes part of the downtown historic district and South Park and a 20-acre site adjacent to Staples Center, thought by some redevelopment officials to be a prime site for a stadium.

* Hoover Project, a 735-acre area southwest of downtown that includes the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, judged by redevelopment officials as well suited to be renovated as an NFL stadium.

* Council District 9 Project, a 2,817-acre area generally bounded by Santa Monica Freeway on the north, Alameda Street and Central Avenue on the east, Normandie Avenue on the west and 84th Street on the south.

* North Hollywood Project, a 750-acre area centered at the

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intersection of Magnolia Boulevard and Lankershim Boulevard that includes a subway station and the NoHo Arts District

* Crenshaw/Slauson Project, a 262-acre area about six miles southwest of downtown.

* Chinatown Project, a 303-acre area north of the downtown Civic Center.

* Pacific Corridor Project, a 693-acre area of east San Pedro.

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* Adelante Eastside Project, a 2,200-acre area that includes Boyle Heights, El Sereno and the Union Pacific rail yard touted by Councilman Nick Pacheco as a potential prime site for a stadium.


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