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Carson Ups Its Ante in Contest for NFL Team

Sports: City Council says it would contribute up to $180 million to Ovitz's bid for franchise.

October 23, 1998|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to lure an NFL team to town, the Carson City Council on Thursday voted to contribute up to $180 million to famed deal-maker Michael Ovitz's proposal to build a 157-acre sports and retail complex on what is now a toxic landfill.

The $180-million figure represents a sharp hike from the $100 million that city officials previously were thought to be considering.

City Manager Jerry Groomes said a study indicated that $180 million was "feasible and reasonable," and a consultant hired by the city stressed that the city was in no way obligating itself to pay that much money--only signaling its strong intent to do business with Ovitz.

The vote, met by loud applause from the audience, was 4-0. Council member Lorelie S. Olaes abstained.

City consultant John Stainback estimated that the stadium and mall could cost $623 million. The NFL's franchise fee could push the ultimate cost to $1.2 billion, he said.

NFL insiders have said that Carson's willingness to consider spending public money has transformed the Ovitz proposal from a longshot months ago into a viable and intriguing contender in what has become a three-way race to land the league's next expansion franchise, its 32nd team.

The Carson plan faces fierce competition both locally, from rivals hoping to lure the league back to a modernized Los Angeles Coliseum, and from Houston.

Houston has long held the overall lead, with firm financial plans and a unified city-county partnership with a local millionaire. NFL insiders say the Carson plan has recently emerged as the stronger of the two Southern California contenders--but add that such an assessment is subject to abrupt change.

NFL owners are due to meet Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo., to entertain proposals from the Carson, Coliseum and Houston groups. After those presentations, owners may set a specific timetable for expansion. A franchise is likely to be awarded in 1999 for play beginning in 2001 or 2002.

Before Thursday night's meeting, key Carson officials said they wanted to send a clear signal to the NFL that the South Bay city is pursuing a public-private partnership with Ovitz.

The former mega-agent and Disney executive wants to merge a mission-style stadium, dubbed The Hacienda, with a new mall at the 157-acre abandoned landfill, located at the intersection of the Harbor and San Diego freeways.

Though the landfill contains some toxic materials, that problem can be fixed for about $35 million, according to experts.

So the issues before the City Council on Thursday were plain: Did the city want in on a deal? And was there pressure to get in because of the Coliseum and Houston?

"The pressure I feel is not coming from the Coliseum," Councilman Daryl Sweeney, a banker who has led the city's negotiations with Ovitz, said before the meeting.

"The pressure stems from wanting to have something concrete to take to Kansas City, so we can get up there with Houston."

Nonetheless, he said, it was critical not to commit to a proposal just to sniff the glamour of pro football.

"We can't put the city in jeopardy just to have a stadium," Sweeney said. "The numbers have to work from an economic perspective. We are answerable to the residents of the community."

Some residents spoke out in opposition to the proposal.

Former Mayor Michael I. Mitoma said, "There's not enough information, absolutely not enough information, to decide how good a deal it is. . . . Trust me, on a $100-million-dollar deal, it's scary."

All $180 million would be community redevelopment money--not from the city's general fund.

Most of it, $150 million, would be financed by selling bonds. The remainder would be money the redevelopment agency already has available, including $18 million set aside years ago when the 157-acre site was being considered for an outlet mall.

Ovitz, meantime, is believed to have asked the city for more than $100 million. Full details of his proposal have not been released.

The finance plan for the New Coliseum, revealed Monday to favorable reviews from NFL officials, calls for owners Ed Roski & Partners to spend $357 million to redo the venerable facility. Real estate executive Roski is currently building the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for the Kings, Lakers and Clippers, the hockey and basketball teams.

The $357 million breaks down this way: $40 million in public funds, $100 million in personal seat licenses, and the rest, about $217 million, in money borrowed from banks or raised through the sale of bonds or stock.

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