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Pasadena Not Sold on NFL Plan

Times Staff Writer

As the people hoping to transform the Rose Bowl into an NFL home gear up to make a major sales push to the city of Pasadena and the league, the voices of concern are growing louder.

“We’re all very worried,” said historical preservationist Susan Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage. “If the NFL is on the train, it’s headed straight to Pasadena and there are no stops in between.”

Earlier this month, a group of Rose Bowl and Pasadena officials met in Florida with a collection of NFL team owners and made a presentation on the merits of rebuilding the 81-year-old stadium. At a projected cost of $450 million, the Rose Bowl would be more than doubled in size -- from 400,000 to 1 million square feet -- yet its seating capacity would be reduced by about one-third to 63,000, which is more in line with modern pro football stadiums. Investment banker John Moag, the project’s point man, has said the stadium will feature a 2,000-space underground parking lot covered with grass or other vegetation.

“When I heard about the underground parking I just laughed,” said Tim Brick, a water specialist who represents Pasadena on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “That’s ridiculous that they can build underground parking in a streambed. It’s inappropriate, it’s far too expensive, and it just isn’t going to work.”

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Brick said a hydrology study performed a decade ago in the vicinity of the Rose Bowl determined there was water 16 feet below the surface, a finding that would complicate lowering the field or building underground parking. Moag said he is encouraged by a survey recently done by his group.

“We’ve done borings at the site and we do not hit water, nor do we hit rock, which is very good news,” he said. “Complete drillings have not been done, but those that have been done yielded very good results.”

With the help of HOK, a leading stadium design company, Moag’s group came up with several concepts for a rebuilt Rose Bowl. One involved lowering the field by 30 feet. Another called for superimposing a huge new structure on the existing one, making it 30 to 60 feet higher. Yet another proposed constructing a completely new stadium nearby. Moag now says his group has gone back to the notion of preserving as much of the current structure as possible -- a more historically friendly approach -- and that those renderings will be made public within a week.

Mossman said Pasadena Heritage members remained skeptical and very concerned about the prospects of a new Rose Bowl.

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“We’re concerned about the park and adjacent neighborhoods,” she said. “But the brightest line for us is this is a national historic landmark. Those are rare. We are fortunate to have it. So a conversion to an NFL stadium that jeopardizes that is extremely serious to us.”

Added Mossman: “This is not in our view a historic preservation project, not a restoration or a renovation. The magnitude of what’s needed is huge.”

NFL owners will meet again in May and are expected to discuss the prospects of putting a team -- almost certainly a relocated one, not an expansion team -- in a reconstructed Rose Bowl. Moag has estimated construction would require 23 months and would begin immediately after the Rose Bowl game so as not to disrupt that tradition any longer than necessary. The Rose Bowl game and Rose parade infuse $400 million to $500 million into the community every year, according to Tournament of Roses estimates. The game typically draws a crowd of about 89,000 at $125 a ticket, so reducing the capacity of the stadium comes at a significant cost. Moag said the stadium can be expanded by several thousand seats for Super Bowls and Rose Bowl games.

“For us, the jury is still out,” Tournament of Roses President Mitch Dorger said. “We’re very interested in maintaining a viable venue for our game. We would like to see a proposal that finds a way to do that.”

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Moag said he intends to spend the next several weeks meeting with the people of Pasadena and detailing his vision for the stadium.

“I suspect there will be dozens of public meetings prior to anything going to the city council,” he said. “That will take the form of town meetings, meetings in each of the council member’s districts. We will meet separately with any and all of the neighborhood associations that want to be briefed. So nothing will go to the council until the public has had a chance to fully consume the plan.”

But some Pasadena residents are worried council members already have made up their mind in favor of the project. So far, they say, Moag’s public meetings are closer to one-sided NFL tent revivals than balanced debates.

“There has been talk about an NFL team for years,” said Emina Darakjy, president of the East Arroyo Residents Assn. “That’s not any secret. It’s nothing new. But then all of a sudden things are running so fast, it’s what’s the hurry? Do they know something we don’t know? At least be honest with us and tell us.”

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A lot of people welcome the idea of Pasadena becoming an NFL city. The Rose Bowl Operating Co. recently allotted $150,000 for an environmental impact report to study a reconstruction project. Proponents say it will not only “save” the stadium but will infuse the community with jobs and Super Bowls.

Moag will receive as much as $5 million if he secures a 15-year commitment for an NFL team to move to the Rose Bowl. He and other proponents of rebuilding the stadium say that, without the NFL as a tenant, the Rose Bowl will eventually fall into disrepair. He warns the Rose Bowl could wind up looking like Miami’s Orange Bowl, which is far more decrepit.

Not everyone buys that argument, particularly many of the people who live in the upscale homes that border the Rose Bowl. They are concerned the massive project will have a devastating impact on the Arroyo Seco, home to the city’s largest park and a popular place for soccer games as well as joggers and bikers.

“The problem is they’re going to take what is a beautiful regional park that has a lot of weekend usage for the whole San Gabriel Valley and turn it into a huge spectator-sport athletic venue that’s going to eliminate all these other uses,” said Tom Masenga, who lives near the stadium.

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NFL owners gathered in Phoenix last week for their annual meetings. They didn’t formally discuss the Rose Bowl, or even a return to Los Angeles, but several owners privately said they have taken a prove-it-to-me approach when it comes to Moag’s plan. Many cited concerns about parking and freeway access to the Rose Bowl, as well as the difficulty of transforming a national historic monument into a state-of-the-art stadium.

“The location doesn’t bother me,” Denver Bronco owner Pat Bowlen said. “The limitations of the location do bother me.”


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