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Dodger Bidder Would Raze Stadium, Put One Downtown

Developer Alan Casden envisions a range of homes at Chavez Ravine. But a deal is uncertain.

July 11, 2003|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

If multimillionaire apartment developer Alan Casden has his way, he'll do more than become the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers; he'll change the face of downtown Los Angeles in the process.

In a rare interview, the chairman and chief executive of Beverly Hills-based Casden Properties made clear his passion for baseball -- and laid out a blueprint for moving the Dodgers from their home field atop Chavez Ravine to downtown Los Angeles near Staples Center.

Casden contended that by razing Dodger Stadium and relocating the team a few miles down the 110 Freeway, he could offer a markedly better experience for fans -- and at the same time provide thousands of new housing units in Chavez Ravine.

All in all, Casden said, his proposal amounts to "a $1-billion commitment to the city."

Casden's plan remains, at least at this stage, little more than a dream in his head. For starters, he is not even the front-runner in the bidding for the Dodgers, according to sources close to the team. The team's owner, News Corp., is hoping to cut a deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer.

But Glazer's $360-million offer for the Dodgers has run into some problems, sources say, related to his financing and his proposed management structure for the team. If those issues can't be resolved, that might open the door for others including Casden, who is thought to have put the largest offer on the table, at $400 million.

Even then, there would be many obstacles in front of him. Casden himself acknowledged that obtaining approval to build housing in the area is far from a sure thing. "It would depend on what the city would allow you to do," he said. Earning entitlements to build would be "an arduous task."

A spokeswoman for Mayor James K. Hahn said he had no comment on Casden's plans. A spokesman for News Corp. couldn't immediately be reached Thursday.

The 57-year-old Casden is no novice when it comes to turning a vision into reality. Known for his brusque, no-nonsense demeanor, Casden is listed on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy Americans with an estimated net worth of $800 million. He has developed or acquired more than 90,000 apartments in a career that dates to the 1970s.

In addition to building upscale apartments, including the luxury Palazzo project recently completed next to Park La Brea in Los Angeles, Casden has been heavily involved in developing low-income housing.

Yet moving Dodger Stadium and building a mix of high-end, mid-range and affordable housing on the 300-acre hilltop where the ballpark now stands would overshadow anything else he has done. If successful, Casden could help spur the renaissance of downtown L.A. while giving Chavez Ravine a chance to capture something of its pre-1950s character: a collection of homes surrounded by the green of Elysian Park.

The way things pencil out, according to Casden, it could all be achieved without public subsidy (save, perhaps, for tax credits from the city that are available for the construction of low-income housing).

In essence, he said, the money he could make from developing housing in the neighborhood would be enough to finance a new stadium. Real estate experts have valued Chavez Ravine land at about $1 million an acre.

Casden said he also foresaw putting money into sprucing up Elysian Park as part of a broad upgrade to the neighborhood. He added that the area could also accommodate a new public school.

At the same time, the prospect of bulldozing the Dodgers' home of more than four decades doesn't trouble Casden, though he has been attending games there since it opened in 1962 and has seen such history on the field as a no-hitter thrown by beloved Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax.

"They knock down stadiums all the time," Casden said. "Dodger Stadium is not an antique. It's not Frank Lloyd Wright. It's a nice place to play baseball, but there are far better."

If fact, as far as Casden is concerned, Dodger Stadium has a wide range of drawbacks. Among them: convoluted parking lots; a poor seating plan; and a location inconvenient for both fans and long-suffering Chavez Ravine residents, who complain about the traffic, noise and litter in their neighborhood.

Still, that doesn't mean the locals would necessarily greet Casden with open arms. Told of the developer's plans, Virginia Pinedo, a third-generation denizen of the neighborhood, expressed skepticism about Casden and his motives.

"I'm not real hot on the idea" of getting rid of Dodger Stadium and putting up more housing, she said. "I don't think he's going to invite back all the families that moved out of Chavez Ravine" for a 1950s public housing project that was never built, making room for the stadium.

"He'll have a big fight on his hands," she added.

Though his offer to buy the Dodgers is not contingent on being able to relocate the stadium downtown, Casden has already quietly broached the idea with public officials.

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