Oct 10, 2010

$152-million makeover proposed for Rose Bowl

Three-year renovation would update the 88-year-old stadium but retain its landmark status,
planners say. Pasadena City Council may vote Monday.

By Shan Li
Los Angeles Times - Sunday, October 10, 2010

Like a fading beauty queen headed for obscurity, Pasadena's Rose Bowl Stadium may undergo a drastic facelift to preserve its mass appeal.

Worried that the 88-year-old arena might be supplanted by newer stadiums under discussion in Los Angeles and the City of Industry, operators have proposed $152 million worth of improvements to the city-owned stadium. On Monday night, the Pasadena City Council is expected to vote on the renovation project and a proposed financing plan for the improvements.

“This stadium is part of history. We've had five Super Bowls here, the Olympics, the Rose Bowl game every year,” said Darryl Dunn, general manager of the stadium. “It's had a great run, but the question is what is the future going to be?”

The three-year renovation project, proponents say, would preserve the stadium's vintage charm and greatly expand luxury seating. It would also ensure a steady source of revenue for decades by requiring UCLA and the Tournament of Roses-both supporters of the plan-to extend their leases to 2043. The tournament organization also agreed that Rose Bowl games will be played only at the Rose Bowl for the duration of the lease.

If approved, the renovation project would break ground in January 2011 and be completed in time for the 100th Rose Bowl game and the Bowl Championship Series title game in 2014.

Project highlights would include:

- - Widened tunnels and added aisles for smoother entering and exiting.

- - Restoration of the field's original oval shape through removal of the 10 lowest rows of red seats.

- - Replacement of the southern scoreboard with a 1940s-era replica.

- - New signage on the north end with a longer high-definition video board.

- - More luxury suites and premium seating. (The bench seating may eventually be replaced in an expansion of the base plan.)

Under the financing proposal, most of the renovations would be paid for with $130 million in federal and local bonds. Roughly $68 million of that funding would come from federal Build America bonds, $6.5 million from federal Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds and about $55.5 million from locally issued bonds.

The city will also put up $15 million of its own funds for the work, leaving a $7.5-million funding gap. City Manager Michael Beck said that the 2014 bowl championship game should generate up to $2.9 million to help bridge the gap and that the city expects that renovation costs will be less than projected. Construction companies eager for work could submit bids that are lower than planners expected, he said.

The renovation would greatly expand the enclosed press box building but not allow it to grow taller, a restriction that soothed preservationists. Meanwhile, premium seating capacity would be raised from 600 to 2,500. Stadium officials say that the increase would generate roughly $85 million in proceeds over the next three decades and provide the city with money to pay off the bonds.

Stadium renovations have been discussed in the past, but plan proponents say the recession has given the project new urgency and funding opportunities.

“I like to say that we couldn't afford the plan two years ago, and we can't afford it two years from now,” Beck said. “Interest rates and construction costs are at historic lows in this economy. It's the right time to invest.”

Stadiums are notoriously risky investments and the Rose Bowl's status as a national historic landmark is a further complication.

In 2003, Pasadena began negotiating with the National Football League about hosting a franchise. The NFL floated the idea of footing the bill for a $500-million overhaul in exchange for the right to operate the stadium.

However, residents in and near the Arroyo Seco, the canyon where the Rose Bowl is nestled, decried the traffic and mayhem the NFL games would bring. Preservationists denounced the proposed renovations, a total overhaul that threatened to jeopardize the Rose Bowl's historic status. The city put the matter to a vote.

“There was a resounding 'No' from the people of Pasadena,” Mayor Bill Bogaard said. “There was almost 74% opposition.”

Preservationists said they will continue to keep a close eye on stadium plans.

“It's rare. It's prestigious. It's something we don't want to lose,” said Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage. She said she didn't want the Rose Bowl to suffer the same fate of Chicago's Soldier Field which lost its historic designation in 2006 after extensive renovations.

On a recent Saturday, the Rose Bowl glittered under a hot sun. Football fans packed the stands, swathed in UCLA blue. They had mixed views on proposed improvements.

Raul Gonzalez, 48, buys two season tickets to Bruins games every year, for $250 apiece. The high school teacher from Upland worried that the city would try to pass costs on to fans.

“I couldn't care less about renovations,” he said. “I just don't want to pay more for these seats than I already do.”

A friend, Byron Tucker, 45, shushed him and disagreed: “I've been going to games here for 30 years,” he said. “When I see stadiums in other cities, there's a clear difference in the fan experience. The Rose Bowl needs to keep up.”

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