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

Business Unusual

Disneyland Expansion Took Priority Over Sportstown Project

March 23, 1998|BILL SHAIKIN

Entertainment district? Take a quick tour of the one Disney designed for its Boardwalk at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

For lunch, try a burger and beer from the microbrewery. Spend the afternoon browsing in specialty shops. Dash into the sports bar for a snack and a peek at the big games. Shuffle back to the luxury hotel for a nap and a shower, then enjoy dinner at the seafood restaurant and dancing at the club.

And do it all without walking more than a few steps in any direction.

Anaheim entertains a similar vision for the Sportstown site adjacent to Edison Field. So why did Disney reject the city's invitation to develop Sportstown?

As one tentacle of the Disney empire negotiated with the city over the stadium renovation agreement that represented the final hurdle in Disney's purchase of the Angels, another planned a Disneyland expansion. The company unveiled that project, dubbed Disney's California Adventure, within weeks of signing the 1996 stadium deal with the city.

The Disneyland expansion featured a so-called "second gate," including a plaza with hotel, restaurant and entertainment options similar to those the city envisioned for Sportstown, two miles down Katella Avenue.

"Let's say we had an athletic shoe company we were pitching for the second gate at Disneyland," Anaheim Sports president Tony Tavares said. "You would find yourself having to make a choice between two projects, and that would place us in a difficult position.

"You're always going to do what's in your best interest at Disneyland. If we weren't doing the second gate, we probably would have gotten more involved."

Said City Manager James Ruth: "The expansion of the park was very much their priority. It was a lot to expect them to think in terms of the stadium and that.

"I understood that. I wasn't offended by that."

Disney history presents a curious perspective. The company bought up endless acres surrounding Disney World in Florida, reserving them for possible future development and insuring Disney against an East Coast reincarnation of the crowded and sometimes tacky jumble of hotels, motels, coffee shops and souvenir outlets that border Disneyland.

Disney committed $230 million to buy the Angels and renovate their stadium. By passing up the chance to control development of surrounding property, is the company worried Anaheim history might repeat itself?

"I think the city of Anaheim has some pretty high standards, so I'm not concerned about that," Tavares said. "I think Sportstown is a good idea."

So, too, does Forest City, the private company selected by the city to develop Sportstown. The enticing tourist base--37 million descended upon Orange County last year--should generate enough interest among potential tenants to fill both Sportstown and Disneyland's second gate, Disney and Forest City officials agree.

Will Forest City mine the gold after Disney declined to stake its claim? If Sportstown succeeds, Disney expects a few nuggets to flow its way anyway.

"The more people that go there, the more people will come into the stadium," Tavares said. "We will get benefits that way."

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