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A NEW HOME FOR THE ANGELS: EDISON INTERNATIONAL FIELD
OF ANAHEIM

A NEW HOME : Anaheim Stadium Becomes Edison Field

Disney Made The Stadium A Modern Baseball Destination. Now The City Of Anaheim Must Turn A Profit In The Parking Lot.

March 23, 1998|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cash registers start ringing at Disney's Baseball Land this week.

The Walt Disney Co. and the city of Anaheim invite you to join the grand opening celebrations at the ballpark formerly known as Anaheim Stadium. That was $117 million ago, before barbecues and beer gardens, before luxury seats and dugout suites, before exploding waterfalls and cartoonish caps that could fit atop a small planet.

With every ticket you buy, every car you park and every hot dog or cinnamon roll you eat, Disney recoups that much more of its investment in the renovation of . . . uh, Edison Field. Disney got a $28-million head start--about one-third of its share of the project cost--simply by renting the stadium name to the utility company, for 20 years at $1.4 million per year.

The cash registers will not toll, however, for the city of Anaheim. In an era when cities can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new stadiums, Anaheim contributed $30 million toward the renovation project, promising taxpayers they would more than recover their investment with the development of land surrounding the stadium.

Disney delivered on its promise to turn an ugly multipurpose stadium into a wonderful, whimsical ballpark. Now, the city must deliver on its promise to turn a parking lot into gold.

If it fails, Anaheim taxpayers could lose $20 million on an investment city officials assured them would cost them nothing. If it succeeds, communities across America could look toward Anaheim for a new and imaginative model of suburban stadium development.

With Edison Field awaiting fans, the Anaheim City Council awaits plans for the great development next door. Within the next few weeks, City Manager James Ruth said, he will ask the council to approve a formal development agreement for Sportstown, a 40-acre site adjacent to the stadium expected to include a hotel, restaurants, shops, theaters and offices.

Ruth declined to discuss specific figures, but he said latest revenue projections surpass the $23 million the city originally expected to earn from Sportstown over the term of the Angels' 33-year stadium lease.

"Sportstown is a slam dunk," Ruth said. "It's well in excess of $23 million."

It had better be. Disney already has fulfilled its obligation to pay the city $10 million to cover lost advertising revenues, city finance director Bill Sweeney said. The city must find the other $20 million in the parking lot.

"The deal relies on the development of Sportstown to get the money back," Sweeney said. "Clearly, we have to be successful in developing the parking lot."

The proposed agreement requires Forest City, the Cleveland-based developer selected by the city, to start construction within two years. The Sportstown attractions--the businesses that would generate the tax revenue to repay the city for its stadium investment--likely would not open for business for three to four years.

Edison Field opens this week, but the city must sit with collective hands in pockets while Disney fills its pockets with revenue from admissions, parking and concessions. The city can make no money from concessions, and the Angels must surpass high thresholds for the city to collect limited revenue from admissions and parking.

For instance, while Disney pays the city $2 for each admission over 2.6 million, the Angels never have drawn that many fans during this decade. Disney optimistically hopes to attract 2.5 million to Edison Field this season, which would represent a 42% increase from last season.

"If they hit their goal, the taxpayers get zero," Anaheim City Councilman Bob Zemel said.

Zemel, one of two dissenting votes when the council approved the stadium renovation and lease agreement with Disney, said taxpayers should share in revenue generated from a city-owned stadium, including naming rights.

"We had the right to do Sportstown with or without this deal, with or without this stadium, with or without Disney," Zemel said. "That should be the bonus.

"This is the worst deal in America. We already owned the stadium and the land and the development rights around it."

The city paid $13 million to preserve rights, settling a lawsuit that otherwise could have precluded development on the Sportstown site. In addition, despite the probable absence of stadium revenue, the city must continue to make a stadium mortgage payment of nearly $1 million per year.

Ruth defends the deal he negotiated, citing the alternative of an aging stadium sitting vacant. In between the collapse and revival of talks between Disney and the city in 1996, with Disney's purchase of the team contingent on an agreement, Angel co-owner Jackie Autry threatened to move the team from Anaheim when its stadium lease expired in 2001.

In addition to securing the Angels in Anaheim and securing Disney's consent for the Sportstown development, Ruth said the deal privatized stadium operations, on which the city often lost money.

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