ANAHEIM — The city and Walt Disney Co. apparently have reached an agreement that would clear the way for the entertainment giant to buy the California Angels and fund most of a renovation of Anaheim Stadium.
The accord, reached after months of roller-coaster negotiations, is expected to be endorsed by the City Council today. A news conference to be attended by Disney, city and team officials is scheduled to take place immediately after a special council meeting.
Both sides were reluctant to share details of the negotiations, but Councilman Bob Zemel characterized the proposal as a lopsided deal that would give Disney control of virtually all stadium revenue, block the NFL from playing at the Big A this fall and force the city to settle for a shorter lease than the 30-year commitment it had been seeking.
Under the deal, Disney will put up $70 million toward a $100-million stadium renovation, and the city will pay the rest. But Zemel said the city would be hard-pressed to recoup its share of renovation costs after essentially ceding Disney the stadium revenue from tickets, parking, concessions, ballpark advertising and the stadium's name.
The proposal also would exempt Disney Sports Enterprises from any future sports taxes the city might want to impose, Zemel said.
"If there was any way that the taxpayers would be paid back, then I would be for this deal. But clearly there aren't any revenue streams here," Zemel said while attending the Angels home opener Tuesday night.
Zemel's view was in marked contrast to Mayor Tom Daly's opinion that the deal is good for the team and the community.
"This agreement will be a fair deal for the taxpayers and it will bring new energy to Anaheim Stadium and the surrounding area," Daly said, declining to elaborate on the proposed agreement. "It will be good for Anaheim and good for the local economy."
Councilman Lou Lopez also was optimistic, saying "We definitely want Disney to be the eventual owner. I'm hoping that we will have a deal that will meet both the city's and Disney's needs."
If an agreement is announced today, Disney would follow through on plans to buy 25% and operational control of the Angels. It would have the option of taking over full ownership after the death of owner Gene Autry, who is 88.
The deal, which would transform the Big A into a more intimate, baseball-only facility, would further boost Disney's financial stake in the city. The company operates Disneyland and the Mighty Ducks professional hockey team, whose financial and marketing success is the envy of civic, tourism and baseball leaders hopeful that the company could do the same for the Angels.
Disney's purchase of the team was approved by major league baseball in January. The company inserted a last-minute condition stating the deal would not be final unless it reached an agreement with the city over stadium issues within 60 days.
On March 13, Disney announced it would not buy the team because the two sides had reached an impasse over other issues--including the city's goal to build Sportstown Anaheim, a giant entertainment, retail and sports complex on stadium property. Disney saw the proposed project, for which there are no known investors, as incompatible with its plans, sources said.
Disney also was opposed to the idea of sharing Anaheim Stadium with a football team. The city had been courting the Seattle Seahawks, whose owner last month had brought the team to Rams Park in Anaheim for practices as a prelude to relocating to Southern California, possibly in Anaheim.
But Seahawk owner Ken Behring returned the team to Seattle after a short stay under the threat of fines by the National Football League, which is blocking the move. Seattle and Washington courts also are hearing objections.
Angel Executive Vice President Jackie Autry, wife of owner Gene, blamed the city's interest in football and Sportstown Anaheim for the collapse of the deal and threatened to move the ball club from Anaheim when its lease expires in 2001.
Disney officials declined to comment on specifics of the proposed deal, but spokesman Bill Robertson said the company has "cautious optimism" that a deal will be struck. Angels officials could not be reached.
Although the proposal appears to have the blessing of a majority of the council, it appears unlikely the vote will be unanimous.
Zemel, who has clashed with his colleagues in the past over the baseball issue, accused negotiators on both sides on Tuesday of "trying to slam the deal shut before the public knows about it."
Zemel said that while he thinks Disney would be a good owner of the Angels, he is highly critical of the style of negotiations, charging that details had been kept from some members of the council until late Tuesday afternoon.
"It reeks of a back-room deal," Zemel said. "It appears to be a done deal, so much so that they have scheduled a press conference. I don't think the taxpayers of Anaheim are fooled by this."