Feb 1, 2012

Time out on the field

Plans to use the Rose Bowl as a temporary home for an NFL team are rendered moot for now by commissioner's recent comments

by Andre coleman - February 1, 2012

Calling the Rose Bowl one of the city's most powerful economic engines, Mayor Bill Bogaard said it would be irresponsible to not negotiate with the NFL as a temporary home for a pro football team while possibly two stadiums are being built in other parts of Los Angeles County.

“Last year there was discussion about possible temporary use of the Rose Bowl for professional football if an NFL team ultimately agrees to move to Los Angeles,” Bogaard said in his annual State of the City speech Thursday at A Noise Within, a new live theater company in East Pasadena.

The location of this year's speech was significant, because it also showcased a potential money-making (thus tax-generating) enterprise for the city after the popular theater company moved to Pasadena last year from its longtime home in Glendale. The group built a $13.3-million entertainment complex at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa.

“There are no negotiations at this time, and none may ever occur,” the mayor said of possible dealings with professional football officials. “But if a strong likelihood emerges for such temporary use, I believe it would not be responsible for the council to reject such a possibility out of hand.”

Although talk of a pro team playing temporarily in the Rose Bowl as stadiums are being built in either downtown Los Angeles or in the City of Industry, opponents and supporters — among them Bogaard, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Paul Little and Rose Bowl Manager Darryl Dunn — can forget about the NFL coming to town anytime soon.

On the same day as Bogaard's speech, the Pierce County Herald newspaper quoted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying he would not approve any team moving to Los Angeles until next year. “None of the franchises will receive permission to move to the vacant Los Angeles market until at least 2013,” said Goodell, who was in Minnesota speaking at a meeting regarding the Minnesota Vikings' plans to leave St. Paul for Los Angeles.

Goodell had previously gone on the record in a Nov. 10 Los Angeles Times story, stating that a pro football stadium must be constructed before any team can move to LA.

“Until there's an appropriate solution in Los Angeles, there won't be a team there.” the Times quoted the commissioner saying. “One, you have to get it built. Two, you have to have it financed. And three, it has to be able to generate the kind of revenue that's necessary to keep a team successful. Last, but not least, make sure it works for the community.”

Those statements seem to not put much faith in stadium construction plans put forth by officials with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owned by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz, and Majestic Realty Co., owned by LA real estate magnate Ed Roski.

Officials with those companies said previously that they would not break ground on stadiums in downtown Los Angeles (AEG's Farmers Field) and City of Industry (home to Roski's stadium) before the NFL approved a team to set up shop in the region. AEG hopes to begin construction at the end of 2012 and eventually unveil the completed stadium. The Los Angeles team was expected to temporarily play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or the Rose Bowl while the stadiums were being built. When finished, Farmers Field, as the proposed stadium is called, is expected to cost $1.2 billion and seat 72,000 fans. Roski's stadium would cost an estimated $1.4 billion, seating 75,000 fans.

City officials in Pasadena had planned to finance a $300,000 environmental impact report (EIR) to study traffic and crowd impacts on the Arroyo Seco, as well as the overall economic impacts of allowing an NFL team to play in the area.

“The EIR is on hold right now,” said Dunn. “The city hasn't decided if they are going to complete the EIR or not.”

Goodell was in St. Paul last week to force Minnesota Viking officials to continue negotiations for a new stadium instead of moving the team to LA. The Vikings were a prime candidate to move to LA, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers.

According to published reports, Jags owners refused to sell the team to anyone who would move the franchise out of Jacksonville and declined an offer by Anschutz to play at Farmers Field. In addition, the Chargers did not use its lease termination clause, which the team would need to do in order to move to LA.

“The NFL wants to be in Los Angeles, and teams have expressed some interest in coming to Los Angeles, and there are individuals who have the resources to bringing them here,” said Councilman Victor Gordo, who represents the city on the board of directors of the Rose Bowl Operating Co., which oversees operations at the stadium.

“There are two places they can play temporarily, the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. Should a team choose to relocate, we would be one of the two venues potentially available,” Gordo explained. “It is a limited market. It's as simple as that.”

An NFL team playing temporarily in Pasadena could bring to the city millions of dollars in added annual revenue and help erase the city's $25-million budget deficit, which tripled when the federal government refused to provide emergency funds after devastating windstorms caused more than $17 million in damage locally.

Now, without the possibility of the NFL courting Pasadena for a temporary home, city officials say they may be forced to lay off hundreds of city employees and cut services and raise fees if Gov. Jerry Brown refuses to provide disaster relief, which seems unlikely.

A pro team temporarily playing in the Rose Bowl could help close a nearly $20-million financial budget gap in the stadium's $157-million reconstruction budget, which is a result of instability in the bond markets, increased employment costs and the cost of construction materials, stadium officials have said. In addition, a pro team would generate $3 million in revenue for the stadium, hotels and local restaurants, according to a 2004 city-funded EIR prepared for a similar plan being considered at that time.

The revenue and profits to be made apparently appealed to the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce board of directors, which unanimously voted in December to support exploring the idea of going into business with the NFL.

“The board felt very strongly that it would be a huge lost opportunity to dismiss the interim NFL team before even hearing what any deal terms may be and without understanding what impacts may result,” Little said in a statement after the vote.

But not everyone was in favor of the idea, according to a survey conducted by the West Pasadena Residents Association. Distributed to 5,700 residents in the Arroyo Seco living near the Rose Bowl, 43 percent of respondents thought the city should not consider temporarily allowing the NFL to use the Rose Bowl, and only 19 percent thought the city should consider the idea. Another 37 percent thought such a proposal should be considered, but conditionally. Opponents of the plan cited traffic, congestion and safety concerns, as well as reduced access to the arroyo, as chief reasons for opposing the idea.

“We don't know if it is beneficial,” said Gordo, who said the true benefit to Pasadena — home to five Super Bowls — is unknown, primarily because the NFL has historically negotiated to please and profit itself, not necessarily serving the city it occupies, including Pasadena.

“Some say it can be lucrative and others say it is not,” Gordo continued. “We are reserving judgment until there are negotiations and negotiation terms. I have gone through this dance once before. I am well aware they are interested in financial terms that favor the NFL. I support remaining open to good faith negotiations. In the end, the deal has to make sense to the stadium, the city and be respectful of the park land and the neighbors living nearby, and I believe all of that is achievable.”