Backers of Anaheim's much-touted proposal for a $40-million sports arena are behind schedule and racing to meet an April 22 deadline that will affect a bid to bring Orange County its first professional basketball team.
If the Westdome Partnership, the developers proposing the 20,000-seat arena, cannot get financial backing by April 22, the chances for a basketball team for Anaheim are nil in this round, National Basketball Assn. authorities said. April 22 is the day the NBA Board of Governors meets to decide which city or cities will get a team.
The proposal faces another hurdle at a divided Anaheim City Council, whose members have expressed varying degrees of support for the arena. One council member now suggests that the city, itself, should build the arena--without the Westdome firm.
City officials said they have been approached by other developers interested in the project, and the city will not wait indefinitely for the Westdome partners.
"I'm not saying we're giving up on Westdome," city spokeswoman Sheri Erlewine said. "(But) at some point we're going to say: 'Listen Westdome, we like you and we want you, but we can wait (only) so long.' "
Alan Durkovic, one of the developers in the four-member Westdome Partnership, responded: "That always happens. There are people who follow a project of this nature and (later) throw their hats into the ring."
Asked if the prospect of such competition worried him, Durkovic said, "I don't have time to worry about that."
Recently, Durkovic said, he and his colleagues have been working to line up financing for a bond issue and are seeking backing from a bank by the deadline. But he declined to elaborate on the dealings, saying, "this is a delicate time." But he added that he was confident "that we can do it. . . ."
The addition of a major indoor arena would be a significant boost to Anaheim, which already is home to Anaheim Stadium, a large convention center and Disneyland, city officials are fond of saying.
For its part, the city, under the current proposal by the Westdome Partnership, would be responsible for acquiring the land for the arena. The city has said it would consider selling municipal bonds to buy more than 10 acres southwest of Anaheim Stadium and to relocate the businesses already there to make way for the proposed arena.
But members of the City Council, which must approve such an acquisition and a bond measure, have recently expressed caution.
"I can't predict how I would go on that (Westdome)," Mayor Ben Bay said. "There are other people around who are interested in the franchise. There are other people around who are interested in Anaheim.
"There is no question the city would like to have an arena. There is no question that the city would like to have an NBA franchise" as well as an ice hockey team, more trade shows and so on, Bay said. But beyond that, Bay said the questions become: "Well, how far would we go? What risk factor would we take? There is always the risk of (the city being) involved in financing. What would be the return on our investment? What share of the whole thing would we get. . .? "
Bay--who opposes bond issues for non-revenue-producing functions, such as a police station--said there isn't enough information yet available on Westdome for him to cast a vote.
Councilman Fred Hunter said another option is being considered. "The thinking going on is (that) we might build our own stadium. We may not need Westdome.
"I think they're having big problems getting the package together because of financing," Hunter said in reference to the Westdome partners. "There is more than a possibility, but a probability, that we would build our own arena."
Doesn't Like Option
Councilman Irv Pickler said he had not heard of that option and added that his gut reaction to it was, "I don't like it."
Mayor Pro Tem Miriam Kaywood said she would support building an arena with or without a major basketball team--a sport Anaheim has been talking about attracting for at least 10 years.
But Hunter said he could not agree to building an arena unless the NBA approves a basketball team for Anaheim. His support, he said, all hinges on winning the franchise.
"No franchise, no arena," Hunter said. "I could not see us building an arena without a franchise."
Durkovic, of the Westdome group, said the partners are trying to complete the financing deal by the NBA deadline of April 22, when the league votes on awarding franchises.
Even if they aren't able to do so by the deadline, Durkovic said the Westdome project could still go ahead as an arena for other major sports. "We're talking with indoor major soccer and major hockey leagues," he said.
Planning for NBA Team
But council members were still thinking only in terms of an NBA team. And if the project proponents--Westdome Partnership and the City of Anaheim--can't guarantee a place for a team to play, the Anaheim bid will have a rough time competing against other cities that can, NBA officials said.