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Frontiere Leaves Door Open--but Just a Crack : Rams: Owner won't rule out keeping the team in O.C. but has very little hope. Task force meets with Shaw.

August 25, 1994|T.J. SIMERS and TRACY WEBER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — Rams owner Georgia Frontiere said Wednesday that she remains open to keeping her team in Anaheim but held out little if any hope of such a deal--especially if Orange County fails to build her a new stadium.

"It does come down to staying in business--I wouldn't dream of leaving if I could stay in business," Frontiere said after a group of Save the Rams leaders met with her top advisers to spell out plans that include a refurbished--but not new--Anaheim Stadium.

"There is always hope, but unless something drastically changes I don't see how we can. You know when the bankers start saying this is it, you have to start listening to them."

In deciding what to do next, Frontiere is relying on Rams President John Shaw, who met Wednesday for two hours with members of the Save the Rams task force at the team's Pico Boulevard offices in Los Angeles. Task force members detailed ideas for the remodeled stadium, a new office complex and practice facility--plus a $50-million plan to buy part of the team.

Afterward, task force members said they were pleased that the two sides were talking at all. "I was happy not to get tossed out of the office," Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner said.

Added Newport Beach sports agent Leigh Steinberg, the group's co-chairman: "They appeared interested and intrigued by some of the elements of the proposal. . . . They said they needed time to analyze it and they would get back to us in a couple weeks."

Shaw remained characteristically noncommittal in assessing the offer in relation to lucrative proposals from cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis.

"We had a preliminary negotiating meeting during which the Save the Rams organization made a financial proposal for keeping the Rams in Anaheim," Shaw said in a one-paragraph statement. "We are reviewing their proposal and anticipate other meetings with the Save the Rams organization."

The Rams, who have suffered more than a 35% drop in season ticket sales while substantially boosting their payroll with free agent acquisitions, have projected a $6-million loss this season. Frontiere earlier empowered Shaw to explore the possibility of moving the team in time to play elsewhere next year.

In an extensive interview Wednesday, in which she apologized for not attending a Rams booster kickoff luncheon last week, she reacted cautiously to enticements offered by Save the Rams.

"I don't know how real any of these things are, but certainly they have the right intentions," said Frontiere, who did not attend Wednesday's meeting. "I think as long as negotiations are open, again, where there's light, there's hope. I mean we're exploring all the options.

"The fact is we have a wonderful country that allows us to go where we can make a living."

But Frontiere said any proposal that is intended to keep the team here will probably have to include a new football stadium. And she said she might be willing to accept a minority partner to get one built.

"If someone had that much of an interest, I would be agreeable to selling a minority part of the team," she said. "I've been a little gun-shy in the past about doing that because so many people have tried to get involved. But that's not beyond the realm of possibility; if there's someone who wants to just pour money into a sinking ship. . . ."

While Save the Rams members declined to discuss the details of the group's offer, which was hastily cobbled together in the last three months by local businessmen and government leaders, it is known to include:

* A revamped football-only Anaheim Stadium complete with improved sight lines to the playing field, more than 100 plush luxury boxes and lucrative club seating with waiter service. Save the Rams members have said season ticket sale guarantees would also be part of the package. The plan would entail building a new stadium for the California Angels baseball team.

* A new Rams corporate headquarters and practice facility including a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building, 2 1/2 football fields, a weight room, a locker room and 400 parking spaces. The center would be built on the 26-acre site of the Stadium Drive-In theater in Orange, near The Pond in Anaheim.

* A $50-million infusion of cash through purchase of a minority interest in the team. Some Save the Rams members have indicated that 10 yet-to-be-chosen investors, from inside and outside the group, will contribute $5 million each toward the purchase.

After Wednesday's meeting, Steiner said the offer to buy part of the team had become a separate issue. "The package could fly with or without it," he said.

But it remains to be seen whether the deal will be enough to persuade Frontiere and her Rams, who have deep roots in Southern California, to resist the lucrative lures being dangled by several East Coast cities. All have made new stadiums part of their offers.

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