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Rose Bowl Finds Itself in the Red : Finances: The stadium posted a $97,000 deficit last year. City officials are looking for ways to save the facility.

February 23, 1992|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — The 70-year-old Rose Bowl, which seems to lift Pasadena to the lofty center of the universe for a few hours every New Year's Day, is on the verge of becoming a turkey, city officials say.

The 101,000-seat stadium has been losing money for the past year and a half and needs more than $40 million in repairs and improvements. The city has been beating the bushes, with limited success, to get it back into the black.

It's frustrating, city officials say. "We have the largest stadium in the country and it's not able to pay for itself," Councilman William Paparian said.

The City Council this week begins discussions of various plans to put the bowl back on the money-making track. One proposal is to make the Rose Bowl an autonomous city enterprise, with an independent board of directors, such as the Pasadena Center Operating Co., which runs the Pasadena Convention Center and Civic Auditorium. The goal is to provide more economical management.

An audit of the Rose Bowl, by the firm of McGladrey & Pullin, will also be presented this week to the council's business enterprise committee, showing, among other things, a $97,000 deficit last year, which was covered by the stadium's reserves.

Even with Super Bowl XXVII set to be played at the Rose Bowl next year and the prospect of lassoing in World Cup championship soccer matches in 1994, the stadium's ongoing problems won't go away. City officials expect more budget shortfalls this year.

"We have a huge backlog of deferred maintenance projects and we're losing money every day the stadium remains open," Vice Mayor Rick Cole said.

The growing laundry list of proposed capital improvements--to make the bowl competitive with other modern stadiums as well as comfortable for the hordes of guests the city would like to attract--ranges from repaving a parking lot and renovating locker rooms to improving customer access and bolstering seismic reinforcements.

"After the dust has settled in 1994, we may find the Rose Bowl is no longer a very competitive place to put on events," Cole said.

Adding to the Rose Bowl's recent problems was the sudden resignation on Valentine's Day of its general manager, Greg Asbury, leaving the Rose Bowl temporarily without an operating executive.

Asbury's wife, Judy Smith, owns a public relations firm that has done business with the Los Angeles Sports Council, with which the city is about to sign a contract to sell the city's Rose Bowl tickets. City Atty. Victor Kaleta found that the potential for shared profits with Asbury's wife put the Rose Bowl manager in possible conflict with his duties as a city official.

Asbury's resignation, just as an independent auditing firm is about to announce its findings, has raised a few eyebrows around City Hall. "It's a pretty dramatic time for the top guy to take a walk," Cole said.

But the timing is strictly coincidental, suggesting neither mismanagement nor wrongdoing of any kind, City Manager Philip Hawkey said.

"What the audit will tell us is what we already knew--that the costs of running the Rose Bowl continue to go up while revenues basically stay the same," Hawkey said.

For the moment, Barbara Barrett, who coordinates city facilities in the Arroyo Seco, will run daily operations at the Rose Bowl and Assistant City Manager Ed Sotelo will head discussions with the National Football League and the World Cup Committee. Several council members say they will propose hiring Asbury as a consultant to assure continuity in planning with the National Football League for the Super Bowl game.

"I'm available," Asbury said last week.

The stadium's financial problems have more to do with the economy, and the faltering market for major stadium events, than with special circumstances in Pasadena, officials say. Nevertheless, Rose Bowl managers have their own special dilemmas, city officials say.

Any discussion of beefing up revenues at the Rose Bowl seems to begin with the suggestion that the number of major events held there be increased.

"Since I came on the council five years ago, I've strived for a different look," Paparian said. "Why not concerts? Why not more sporting events? Why not a boxing match? Why aren't we marketing the stadium?"

One answer is the neighbors. The Rose Bowl is on a flat spot in the Arroyo Seco, a broad, dry riverbed that stretches south from the San Gabriel Mountains, flanked by neighborhoods of expensive hillside homes.

Public discussion of staging more major events in the Rose Bowl inevitably riles up the neighborhood's influential civic groups, which seven years ago successfully lobbied the City Council for an ordinance placing a cap of 12 major stadium events a year. The figure includes UCLA football but not the swap meet.

The issue for residents of the Linda Vista, Annandale and East Arroyo neighborhoods is traffic and noise, said Truett Hollis, a leader of the Linda Vista-Annandale Homeowners Assn.

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