Jul 20, 2011

Here today, gone ... City officials offer the Rose Bowl as a temporary home for LA's next NFL team

By André Coleman - Pasadena Weekly

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and a number of city officials said they are open to plans for an NFL team to play in the Rose Bowl on an interim basis while a new football stadium for a Los Angeles team is being built.

Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn said he has been in preliminary talks with Anschutz Entertainment Group, AEG, owned by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz, and Majestic Realty Co., owned by wealthy LA businessman Ed Roski.

AEG, which built Staples Center and the LA Live business district next to it, plans to construct a 68,000-seat, $1.2-billion stadium on part of the site of the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center. The deal includes the issuance of $275 million in tax-exempt bonds to relocate the convention center. If all goes according to plan, AEG would break ground on the new stadium next year, but the facility would not be ready for action until 2016.

According to an agreement approved unanimously last week by 12 members of the Los Angeles City Council, construction of the AEG stadium, Farmers Field, cannot begin until a team has signed a long-term lease to play there.

Majestic's Roski has a competing stadium project, which includes construction of an $800-million, 75,000-seat facility in the City of Industry. Permits for that project have been approved, but like AEG, Roski does not yet have a team ready to move in.

Likely candidates – none of which are currently of championship caliber – include the San Diego Chargers, which started out in the LA Coliseum in 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers, the Oakland Raiders, which played at the Coliseum as the LA Raiders from 1982 to 1994, the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Other possible teams include the St. Louis Rams – which were once the LA Rams and played in the Coliseum, and later Anaheim before bailing out of the Big A in 1996 – and the Minnesota Vikings.

In the case of AEG, after signing the lease, that team would have to play its home games in either the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl. The home of five Super Bowls, the Rose Bowl is presently undergoing a $152-million renovation.

“We talked to AEG and Majestic Realty a few months ago. At that point, [AEG] still needed to get through the process with the city of Los Angeles,” Dunn said. “What is important now is that they get a team to move here.” And, he said, “We are hopeful to be an interim venue for the new NFL team.”

Officials at USC, the Coliseum's main tenant, told the LA Times last week that unless the university received a new lease, it would veto any deals allowing a professional team to play there. The Trojans´┐Ż lease allows the school to prevent another team from playing at that venue.

UCLA, the Rose Bowl's top tenant, has a similar type of agreement with Pasadena officials and could also pull the veto card if unhappy with the arrangements, all of which would have to be approved by the Pasadena City Council.

“The idea of possibly accommodating the NFL for two or three years while the transition takes place is not something we should ignore,” said Bogaard. “We are making a huge investment in the Rose Bowl and we think the lease payments from the NFL would be substantial. It would be temporary and fully aired with the community. I think it is something we should have a conversation about if we can.”

Six years ago, negotiations between the NFL and Pasadena broke down after the league proposed an offer that would have given it control over the stadium for 35 weeks and forced the city to replace green areas in the Arroyo Seco with retail space.

Angry residents living close to the stadium claimed the proposal, if approved, would increase traffic congestion and noise in their neighborhoods. Residents of West Pasadena's Council District 6, which includes the Rose Bowl, were so upset that some threatened to recall District 6 Councilman Steve Madison if he voted in favor of the league proposal. Madison, who did not return calls for comment on this story, relented and voted against the plan. Former council candidate Carolyn Naber who led the recall drive against Madison and later ran an unsuccessful campaign to take his seat on the council said she had not heard any details about a team possibly coming to play in Pasadena. She said a rumor like that seems to surface every year. However, she would not say if she still opposed the idea.

“Go look at the history books,” Naber said. “Dunn says he is in talks with the NFL every year.”

“I think the Arroyo should be preserved for the neighbors who live in the area,” said businessman and onetime council candidate Robin Salzer, a resident of District 6 and a supporter of bringing a team to Pasadena in 2006. “If there are talks to entertain temporary games while the stadium is being built, then the City Council needs to promise the neighbors that this is a temporary thing. I think it has to pass the smell test. My fear is, once you let them in the door it is hard to keep them out. The people have spoken and they don't want them here permanently.”

After that vote, Councilman Chris Holden and former Council members Paul Little and Joyce Streator sponsored an initiative to allow voters to decide the issue on the November 2006 ballot. Seventy-two percent of voters were opposed, and the initiative did not win one council district. In fact, it carried only five precincts in Holden's Council District 3.

Council members last week assured the Weekly that the NFL would not gain control of the stadium and that a pro team would only play in Pasadena on an interim basis.

“I think it could be a good thing for the city, so long as measures are put in place so that transportation access and public safety issues are taken care of,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin. “On a temporary basis, it could be very helpful, financially, to the Rose Bowl renovation and could provide a nice infusion into the local economy.”

“AEG has informally contacted the Rose Bowl, and the stadium could potentially host an NFL team on a short-term basis,” said Rose Bowl Operation Co. President and Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo. “A renovated Rose Bowl would be a very attractive site. Of course, any agreement would have to be respectful of our current tenants and of course UCLA, and must be respectful of the surrounding neighbors. They had an overwhelming concern with a permanent NFL team. As long as we addressed all of their concerns, I think they would be OK with it.”

Bogaard agreed. “This is truly a different deal than the last one, in that it is temporary and does not involve any NFL accommodations to the stadium itself,” said the mayor. “We are not going to turn it over to the NFL so they can have 35 events a year. They would have their football games and that is it.”