May 25, 2010

Council OKs revision of Rose Bowl stadium renovation plan

By Dan Abendschein, Staff Writer
Pasadena Star News
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PASADENA - The city took another step toward a $170 million face-lift of the Rose Bowl on Monday night after the revised renovation plan won unanimous approval from the City Council.

The city has long been considering plans for the Rose Bowl's future, dating back to 2002 from its first discussions with the National Football League to bring a professional team to the Rose Bowl.

That plan, and others since, had attracted community opposition, but as Councilman Steve Madison noted Monday night, the neighborhood association nearest to the Rose Bowl has put its support behind the current plan.

“The remarkable thing about this proposal is they've managed to get the entire community behind it,” Madison said.

The tough selling point for the project may not be its effect on local neighborhoods, but its cost.

Though the project would be financed by federal stimulus bonds and would not require up-front investment, the price tag of the renovation looms large as the city faces a $5.7 million deficit next year and officials do not foresee balancing the budget until 2014.

But officials, along with the business community, have been quick to point out that the stadium is an essential part of the city's fiscal future.

“The Rose Bowl, along with the Tournament of Roses, bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy,” said Paul Little, president of the local Chamber of Commerce. “At some point you have to reinvest in your economic engine.”

Monday's action means the city has approved design changes made to the Rose Bowl renovation plan since it first approved the project design in 2008.

Officials aim to bring the project back to the Council in September to approve financing for the project. The project will also be looked at by the city's Design Commission and a city hearing officer.

The $170 million renovation plan calls for constructing wider luxury boxes to accommodate extra seating, which will be a large part of stadium officials' plan to bring in more revenue in the future.

A large segment of the stadium's current revenue comes from 600 expensive seats in the luxury box area.

The new plan will expand the number of those seats to 3,000, resulting in additional annual revenue of an estimated $5 million.

Next month, the Council will look at an additional study meant to check those projections and ensure they are correct.

The money for the stadium project would come from federal stimulus bonds that would be issued in the fall.

In the long term, the project would add more debt but city officials have said they believe the increased revenue from the project will allow them to pay back the cost of renovation.

The goal is to start construction by January 2011, after the annual Rose Bowl game.

The city has already invested in the project, authorizing $4.1 million from a Rose Bowl reserve fund to go toward design work.

The renovation project will deal with the problems of overcrowding and long lines to enter the stadium.

Originally, the plan was to widen tunnels into the stadium, but the new plan avoids that costly change.

Instead, fans sitting nearest to the field in the bottom rows will file onto the field and exit through existing tunnels now used only by players and coaches.

The new design features would mean the average fan would be able to exit the stadium after a game in 14 minutes instead of the current time of 29 minutes, according to stadium officials.

There will also be a new museum, gift shop, and a newly-renovated area for food vendors designed to cut back on waiting times.

By limiting the number of tunnels to be renovated and scaling back other construction, the cost of the project has also been revised downwards. Originally, the city was considering a $200 million to $300 million project.

The changes mean the project has come a long way since the original NFL proposal, said Councilman Victor Gordo.

“We started with a proposal for a NFL team that would have destroyed the stadium's integrity," said Gordo at Monday's meeting. "This proposal does the opposite.”

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