Luring the Los Angeles Raiders to Oxnard for their summer training camp was hailed four years ago as a lucky coup.
Now, officials say the deal--which included building the Radisson Suite Hotel to house the team--has become a liability, costing the financially beleaguered city almost $1 million a year.
"The Radisson continues to eat us away. It was a very bad deal," said City Manager David Mora, who came to Oxnard after the deal was set in 1985. "It was a liability. It was a mistake."
In early 1985, the Raiders announced that they were looking for a new training field for their six-week summer camp.
Seeing a chance to generate publicity for the city if they could get the team, Oxnard leaders promised the Raiders a training field and hotel rooms by June, 1986, Mora said.
The Raiders agreed, and the city, which at that point had no site, quickly negotiated a deal with a developer, Mora said.
Part of the agreement stated that the city would help by land for the hotel and develop its parking lot by issuing a $9-million bond. The city intended to pay off the bond with rent the hotel would pay yearly for the site.
But the hotel did not make nearly as much as expected--the result of an overly optimistic financial forecast and brisk competition from new area hotels.
Consequently, the Radisson has been unable to make its annual $985,000 rental payments to the city, said Assistant City Manager John Tooker, who has worked on restructuring the deal since he arrived in 1986.
However, he said, the outlook is improving.
About nine months ago, Oxnard renegotiated the Radisson contract to include a schedule for repaying the owed rent.
And a new team that took over managing the hotel has increased business, according to Tooker and Robert Burk, director of sales and marketing for Radisson.
For now, however, the city must pay off the bond by itself--at a cost of about $750,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are entertaining possibilities of leaving the Los Angeles area. They are nearing the end of their five-year agreement with Oxnard and have yet to renew a five-year option they have to stay on in the city, Tooker said.
The Raiders drop well over $500,000 when their 120 players, coaches, trainers and assorted hangers-on rush Oxnard for training camp, said Rob Varley, executive director of the Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau.
And there's no debating that national sports coverage of the team's training has helped publicize the city, he said.
The Raiders, though, have fallen short of other expectations.
An average of five visitors per day asks for directions to watch the team train, but their sessions are closed to the public, Varley said.
"They're down there at the Radisson, but you can't watch them," Varley said. "They've got a big, black tarp around the field."