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Talks of Landing Saints Softened

Times Staff Writer

Amid renewed uncertainties over the future of the New Orleans Saints, NFL and Los Angeles-area officials on Monday sought to downplay the possibility the franchise might relocate to Southern California.

“We know people in New Orleans have been reading about the ‘threat’ of Los Angeles for a long time,” said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. “We don’t think there’s a time or a place for us to ever bring up this subject.”

Added Bill Chadwick, president of the nine-member Coliseum Commission: “It clearly would be bad form for the commission to reach out to New Orleans -- or to anyone in distress.”

The Saints for years have been mentioned as a possibility should the NFL make a return to the Los Angeles market. The area has been without pro football since after the 1994 season, when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders to Oakland.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints are spending the 2005 season shuttling between “home” games in Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio. Last week, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said Saint owner Tom Benson wanted to meet with him to discuss a relocation beyond this season; New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin called talk of a move disrespectful; Benson then issued a statement saying he’d made no plans to move.

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The San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings are among possible candidates for a move to the Los Angeles area.

The NFL is weighing stadium plans at the Coliseum and in Anaheim. League owners are due to meet this week in Kansas City and hear a report from league staff on the L.A.-area sites but are not expected to take action. The focus instead probably will be on a new labor contract with NFL players and on certain revenue-sharing formulas.

The Anaheim City Council, at its regularly scheduled meeting, is due to be briefed today in closed session on NFL plans.

At Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, Lynch and Chadwick, updating council members Greig Smith and Eric Garcetti at a meeting chaired by Councilman Bernard Parks, said the Coliseum is further along than Anaheim, with the NFL recently sending the Coliseum the first draft of a lease.

The Coliseum would be rebuilt around the peristyle end into a three-decked structure seating 68,000 for the NFL, about 80,000 for USC football games.

In a sign of anticipation, traffic officials said Monday they have launched a $10.7-million project due to be completed in July to upgrade the area’s traffic-monitoring software, add 54 left-turn arrows to 20 nearby intersections and add five message boards and seven closed-circuit television cameras -- to the existing eight -- around Exposition Park.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in perhaps his strongest statement on the issue, said in a letter to Parks that the Coliseum offers “both an historic and wise opportunity” for an NFL return and called collaboration between city, county and state officials “significant and encouraging.”

The City Council recently signed off on a measure drafted by Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to provide infrastructure financing.

“I look forward to attending the kickoff for the 2009 season at the Coliseum,” the mayor wrote.

The league’s oft-announced plan is to pick the stadium site first -- then decide whether to undergo expansion or move one of the 32 existing teams to Southern California. No time frame has been announced.

Last week, the NFL formed an eight-owner “New Orleans Advisory Committee” and expects to decide by the end of this season where the Saints will play in 2006, league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

One proposal circulating among league insiders, first reported by ESPN, would have the Saints play in San Antonio in 2006, then consider Los Angeles. Aiello called it “idle speculation.”

Three of the eight on the New Orleans committee -- Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots -- also serve on another NFL committee assessing prospects in Los Angeles, a smaller group that includes only five owners and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

“I wouldn’t read too much into that. They’re among the most active owners,” Aiello said of the overlap.


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