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Coliseum Backers Seek O'Malley's Support

September 10, 1996|JODI WILGOREN and T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A coalition of Los Angeles city officials Monday asked Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley to join the effort to bring an NFL team to the historic Coliseum, and to abandon any plans for a competing proposal to build a football stadium in Chavez Ravine.

"We need your help if we are to return NFL football to the Coliseum," Community Redevelopment Agency Director John Molloy wrote to O'Malley on behalf of a dozen community leaders, including Mayor Richard Riordan, key council members and the heads of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the University of Southern California and the Museum of Science and Industry.

"We know that the Dodgers have developed an excellent relationship with the NFL and have a thorough understanding of the complex issues which must be addressed in order to bring NFL football back to Los Angeles," the letter states. "Because of the Dodgers' standing in the community, and your knowledge of the challenges facing any effort to bring NFL football back to Los Angeles, we respectfully ask the Dodgers to support and assist the city's efforts to construct a new football facility at the Coliseum. We also invite you to play a leading role in this undertaking."

O'Malley, who met with NFL officials in Los Angeles Monday, said he was "honored" by the invitation, but needs to learn more about the details to place a $150-million, state-of-the-art stadium inside the Coliseum's historic walls before deciding whether to sign on.

"I think the most important thing is that this community rally around one site for a football stadium. The city needs and deserves a state-of-the-art, dynamic new stadium," the Dodger owner said. "We will seriously consider the invitation to help the city solve the football problem."

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the Coliseum area and chairs the city's ad hoc committee on sports, said he is unsure what specific role O'Malley would play in the campaign to bring football to the landmark stadium that housed the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, but that it could include the city supporting him as owner of the NFL team that would play there. Ultimately, however, selection of a franchise owner is in the hands of the league.

"We need him on our team," Ridley-Thomas said in a written statement.

Riordan asked O'Malley a year ago to consider building a football stadium in Chavez Ravine, but Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents that area, opposes the idea, and Riordan has joined Ridley-Thomas and others in pushing the Coliseum instead. Meanwhile, O'Malley has launched a study of the possibilities and has been expected since June to announce his intentions. He has repeatedly stated that he does not want Chavez Ravine to usurp the Coliseum's chances of getting a new NFL team.

Though there are competing proposals to build new NFL stadiums in Anaheim and at Inglewood's Hollywood Park, a decision by O'Malley to join the Coliseum campaign would turn the stadium sweepstakes within the city of Los Angeles into a two-horse race pitting local politicians against a coalition of business leaders who want to bring a football team to South Park, next to the Convention Center. Both groups are capitalizing on last month's announcement of plans for a new hockey and basketball arena in the Convention Center neighborhood, and each promises to build a sports and entertainment corridor that could revive downtown.

Retired Arco Chairman Lodwrick M. Cook and consultant Sheldon Ausman, who are spearheading the South Park effort, said Monday they doubt a star-studded roster of support would change the NFL's oft-stated concerns about the safety of the neighborhood around the Coliseum, or the league's desire for a brand-new stadium rather than "a renovated antique."

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