Angels, Anaheim trying to bury the hatchet
First, the news: The Angels and the city of Anaheim have opened negotiations on a deal that would keep the team in town — and in a newly renovated stadium — into the next decade and beyond.
That the two sides have made it to the bargaining table is a tribute to the burial of an expensive hatchet.
When Angels owner Arte Moreno slapped a Los Angeles label on the team eight years ago, the city of Anaheim sued. Moreno won, but not before he spent $8 million to defend himself against a city he said was “trying to run me out of town.”
Every seat on the Anaheim City Council has turned over since then. The city and team worked together to bring the All-Star game and World Baseball Classic to Anaheim, with city officials disappointed but resigned to the loss of “Anaheim” in the standings and on the uniforms.
“It makes sense to move along, to put the past in the past and work for the future,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said. “Why wouldn’t we want a good relationship with the Angels? We certainly value them tremendously in our city.”
When the Angels held news conferences to celebrate the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, they reserved a front-row seat for Tait.
In the decade that Moreno has owned the Angels, the team’s charitable foundation has donated more than $3 million, primarily to organizations in Anaheim and surrounding communities. When police shootings in Anaheim last summer triggered days of violent protests, Tait said he met with Moreno about taking a leadership role in the business community.
“I think his heart is in the city,” Tait said.
His team can leave the city after the 2016 season, in accordance with the terms of the Angel Stadium lease. City officials declined to discuss the negotiations, and the Angels simply confirmed them.
“The City of Anaheim and Angels Baseball have entered into discussions relating to the current lease agreement,” Angels President John Carpino said in a statement. “These discussions, which are in the early stages, are focused on maintaining a high-quality fan experience for many years to come.”
As negotiators for the Angels and the city work toward an agreement, Tait is the pivotal figure in getting any deal past the City Council.
Tait served on the council in 1996, when the city approved the current lease on a 3-2 vote. He voted no.
In retrospect, the city struck a spectacularly successful deal. The bill for a new ballpark, after all, would have run hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Walt Disney Co., the incoming owners of the team, spent $97 million to convert what had been a cavernous football stadium into a cozy ballpark. Disney also agreed to call the team the Anaheim Angels.
The city contributed $20 million — and the money has almost all been recouped, thanks to ticket and parking revenues from consistently high attendance under Moreno’s ownership after the 2002 World Series championship.
If the deal came up for a vote today, Tait said he still would vote no. The city forfeited any revenue from stadium naming rights, although Moreno has not sold them. The city also let the Angels keep $10 million in billboard revenue and let the team run the stadium too, a loss of about another $1 million per year.
“We basically gave away the store,” Tait said.
The store has closed anyway, in Anaheim and just about anywhere else in Southern California that Moreno might have wished to move. Times are too tight and budgets too lean for cities to pay for stadiums and arenas.
By way of example: If the city were to help Moreno finance ballpark renovation, it would be far more likely to grant him rights to develop the land around Angel Stadium than to cut him a check.
That’s one idea. Moreno, no doubt, has others. But, as Angel Stadium turns 50 in 2016, it’s nice to envision a birthday celebration rather than a somber farewell.
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