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Dodger Bidder Would Raze Stadium, Put One Downtown

Times Staff Writer

If multimillionaire apartment developer Alan Casden has his way, he’ll do more than become the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers; he’ll change the face of downtown Los Angeles in the process.

In a rare interview, the chairman and chief executive of Beverly Hills-based Casden Properties made clear his passion for baseball -- and laid out a blueprint for moving the Dodgers from their home field atop Chavez Ravine to downtown Los Angeles near Staples Center.

Casden contended that by razing Dodger Stadium and relocating the team a few miles down the 110 Freeway, he could offer a markedly better experience for fans -- and at the same time provide thousands of new housing units in Chavez Ravine.

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All in all, Casden said, his proposal amounts to “a $1-billion commitment to the city.”

Casden’s plan remains, at least at this stage, little more than a dream in his head. For starters, he is not even the front-runner in the bidding for the Dodgers, according to sources close to the team. The team’s owner, News Corp., is hoping to cut a deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer.

But Glazer’s $360-million offer for the Dodgers has run into some problems, sources say, related to his financing and his proposed management structure for the team. If those issues can’t be resolved, that might open the door for others including Casden, who is thought to have put the largest offer on the table, at $400 million.

Even then, there would be many obstacles in front of him. Casden himself acknowledged that obtaining approval to build housing in the area is far from a sure thing. “It would depend on what the city would allow you to do,” he said. Earning entitlements to build would be “an arduous task.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor James K. Hahn said he had no comment on Casden’s plans. A spokesman for News Corp. couldn’t immediately be reached Thursday.

The 57-year-old Casden is no novice when it comes to turning a vision into reality. Known for his brusque, no-nonsense demeanor, Casden is listed on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy Americans with an estimated net worth of $800 million. He has developed or acquired more than 90,000 apartments in a career that dates to the 1970s.

In addition to building upscale apartments, including the luxury Palazzo project recently completed next to Park La Brea in Los Angeles, Casden has been heavily involved in developing low-income housing.

Yet moving Dodger Stadium and building a mix of high-end, mid-range and affordable housing on the 300-acre hilltop where the ballpark now stands would overshadow anything else he has done. If successful, Casden could help spur the renaissance of downtown L.A. while giving Chavez Ravine a chance to capture something of its pre-1950s character: a collection of homes surrounded by the green of Elysian Park.

The way things pencil out, according to Casden, it could all be achieved without public subsidy (save, perhaps, for tax credits from the city that are available for the construction of low-income housing).

In essence, he said, the money he could make from developing housing in the neighborhood would be enough to finance a new stadium. Real estate experts have valued Chavez Ravine land at about $1 million an acre.

Casden said he also foresaw putting money into sprucing up Elysian Park as part of a broad upgrade to the neighborhood. He added that the area could also accommodate a new public school.

At the same time, the prospect of bulldozing the Dodgers’ home of more than four decades doesn’t trouble Casden, though he has been attending games there since it opened in 1962 and has seen such history on the field as a no-hitter thrown by beloved Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax.

“They knock down stadiums all the time,” Casden said. “Dodger Stadium is not an antique. It’s not Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a nice place to play baseball, but there are far better.”

If fact, as far as Casden is concerned, Dodger Stadium has a wide range of drawbacks. Among them: convoluted parking lots; a poor seating plan; and a location inconvenient for both fans and long-suffering Chavez Ravine residents, who complain about the traffic, noise and litter in their neighborhood.

Still, that doesn’t mean the locals would necessarily greet Casden with open arms. Told of the developer’s plans, Virginia Pinedo, a third-generation denizen of the neighborhood, expressed skepticism about Casden and his motives.

“I’m not real hot on the idea” of getting rid of Dodger Stadium and putting up more housing, she said. “I don’t think he’s going to invite back all the families that moved out of Chavez Ravine” for a 1950s public housing project that was never built, making room for the stadium.

“He’ll have a big fight on his hands,” she added.

Though his offer to buy the Dodgers is not contingent on being able to relocate the stadium downtown, Casden has already quietly broached the idea with public officials.

“If he is able to self-finance it, I think the idea of a back-to-the future kind of stadium like those that have popped up all over the country would be intriguing,” County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “It could work.”

Yaroslavsky, who acknowledged that he is familiar with Casden’s proposal, said he doesn’t know how the politics might shake out. But he said: “If there is anybody who can do it, Alan Casden can. I definitely think he can pull it off.”

A representative of downtown business interests also endorsed the concept of bringing a baseball park to the urban core.

“Having a baseball stadium in the heart of downtown makes infinite good sense from an urban planning point of view,” said Carol Schatz, president of the Central City Assn.

Stadiums have brought street life and investments to Baltimore, Denver and San Francisco, she said. In Phoenix, a new basketball arena built for the Suns in 1996 followed by a new ballpark for the baseball Diamondbacks in 1998 “proved to be an extraordinary revitalization mechanism” for that city.

A likely spot for a downtown stadium, Casden suggested, would be in the vicinity of a four-block area bounded by 11th Street and Pico Boulevard, and Hope and Olive streets. Representatives of Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz said last year that they wanted to build a 64,000-seat professional football stadium on the site, but withdrew their proposal after running into opposition from city and county officials.

A baseball stadium would be smaller, Casden said, and be used far more often than a venue for football; the Dodgers play 81 home games every season. The facility could also share parking with Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“There is clearly the infrastructure surrounding Staples Center to support additional development such as a baseball stadium,” said Michael Roth, a spokesman for the arena’s principal owner, Anschutz Entertainment Group, which controls the land Casden suggested for a new baseball park.

A modern ballpark with a vertical configuration like PacBell Park in San Francisco or Safeco Field in Seattle would put more fans closer to the action than they are at Dodger Stadium, Casden said. He also would make the stadium smaller, with room for about 45,000 to 50,000 spectators.

“You don’t need 56,000 seats anymore,” said Casden, referring to the existing park’s capacity. “The Dodgers rarely go over 50,000.”

More day games would be nice, he said, but better food is a must. The servers at Dodger Stadium are “masters of the cold hot dog and the warm beer,” Casden complained.

Dodger Dogs should have more crunch, he said, and there should be kosher food stands for fans who are observant Jews. He also railed against crummy restrooms, lousy pizza and the lack of cup holders in all but the priciest seats.

“You’re providing food and entertainment,” Casden said. “It’s got to be a better experience.”

Another advantage to having a downtown stadium, Casden said, is the access it would provide. Dodger fans don’t necessarily arrive late and leave early because they want to, he said; it’s because nearly all of them arrive by car and must fight their way in and out of a few stadium entrances.

By comparison, many more wide streets -- especially east-west arteries -- lead to and from downtown. Plus, buses and light rail serve the area.

Casden, who grew up in L.A., used to take the bus and a trolley to see the Dodgers play in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where he sold programs before games to earn pocket money. As a youngster, Casden collected baseball cards and especially admired Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle and Giant Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

Today, he owns their rookie cards and other memorabilia including a baseball signed by Babe Ruth in 1924. He even has been keeping a Tommy Lasorda doll in his pocket; wind it up, and you hear the former Dodger manager talk about what great fans the team has.

Last month, Casden agreed to settle for $83 million a lawsuit brought by former investors who claimed he and his partners violated federal securities laws and misled them in a series of limited partnerships.

The settlement may improve Casden’s standing with the Dodgers if Glazer can’t close his deal to buy the club. Another possible contender for the Dodgers, should the team’s negotiations with Glazer blow up, is former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan.

Real estate sources believe Glazer also may want to build a new baseball park downtown -- and put a pro football stadium in Chavez Ravine.

But Casden is hopeful that, despite the competition, he has a good shot at buying the only franchise he really wants. “There are other baseball teams for sale,” he said, “but I live here and I love the Dodgers.”

He even has visions of passing the team to his offspring, as former owner Walter O’Malley did.

“I have four sons,” Casden said. “I’d like to be part of baseball for a very long time.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Dodger bidder Alan Casden

Position: Founder and chief executive, Casden Properties

Home: Beverly Hills

Age: 57

Education: Bachelor’s in accounting, USC

Family: Married, five children

Philanthropy: Co-chair of the board of trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, member of USC’s board of trustees, endowed the Alan Casden Dean’s Chair at the USC Leventhal School of Accounting, established the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life.

Projects: Casden Properties has about $700 million in multifamily projects underway in Los Angeles County, with three major complexes in various stages at Park La Brea -- the Villas, Palazzo and Palazzo East. The company has acquired or developed close to 90,000 multifamily residences with a value of $5 billion, primarily in Southern California.

Source: Casden Properties

Los Angeles Times


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