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NFL Commits $10 Million to Carson

Rose Bowl has a rival as the league moves aggressively to return pro football to L.A.

May 21, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — National Football League owners agreed Tuesday to spend as much as $10 million on a potential stadium site in Carson, a nearly unanimous decision that marked an aggressive move by the league to bring pro football back to the Los Angeles market.

The two-year development option on the site of a former dump changes the equation on restoring football to the nation's second-largest television market. Suddenly, Pasadena's Rose Bowl, for months the leading candidate to provide the NFL an L.A. home, has strong competition.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Tuesday that the Pasadena and Carson projects are "symmetrical" -- essentially tied in the eyes of the league.

"We have a serious gap in perceptions," responded a clearly unhappy John Moag, the point man for Pasadena's NFL effort.

"We have been at this for 10 months. We've been through a complete design process, we've begun the [environmental impact report], we've had hundreds of community association meetings, and we've produced a full-blown traffic and parking plan. We've settled on a financial plan after having run dozens of them.

"So if the league views that as us being in a dead heat, then clearly we have a perception problem on what dead heat means," he said.

Still, Denver Bronco owner Pat Bowlen went even further than Tagliabue: "I don't know if Carson is the lead horse, but I think they've got probably the best proposal out there as far as we're concerned," he said.

Pasadena city officials warned that the NFL seemed to be trying to use Carson as leverage against them.

"It puts us in a very uncomfortable position, not that we're afraid of competition," said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. "But we know how the NFL uses competition to extract the very best deal for the league."

Bogaard said that the city must make it clear to the NFL that it "has put its best offer out there."

The league is steering clear of identifying a team that might relocate to L.A. and of discussing potential local owners. Tagliabue said the earliest he can imagine a team playing in L.A. is 2006. That's when Moag said the Rose Bowl project could be completed. A source familiar with the Carson proposal said that stadium could be ready by 2007.

The resolution approved by team owners here Tuesday said the league will continue to investigate not just the Rose Bowl and Carson, but also "other sites that may be presented in the coming months."

The vote was 30 to 1 with one abstention. The Raiders, who contend they still hold rights to the L.A. market, voted against it. The Indianapolis Colts abstained.

The reference to "other sites" was an apparent nod to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, near downtown. Coliseum officials have submitted a letter of interest to the league but have yet to turn in a proposal. Asked Tuesday about the Coliseum, Tagliabue said "Pasadena and Carson, having worked with us for the better part of a year on parallel tracks, are considered further ahead."

The Carson City Council discussed the matter in closed session Tuesday night but declined to comment publicly until they have seen the proposal.

Michael Ovitz, who in 1999 failed to land an expansion franchise for L.A. that would have been based at the same site in Carson, pitched the idea to the league again nearly two months ago, but did not attend these meetings.

Tagliabue said Ovitz would not have an ownership stake in a team but might be interested in helping strike a stadium deal.

If the league were to build a stadium in Carson -- one that it would pay for, then transfer to an incoming owner -- it would be from scratch. The 157-acre site on a landfill is currently earmarked for a shopping center. The money from the NFL would cover the costs of the initial developmental period, which league officials described as including gaining permits and structuring a relationship with the city of Carson.

The developer is GMS Realty of San Diego, which has been working with Ovitz.

The land, next door to the Home Depot Center sports complex, has been the subject of numerous proposals since it ceased operating as a municipal dump in 1964.

Under the deal approved Tuesday, the NFL will make the investment up front, then will be reimbursed either partially or fully if the plan doesn't come to fruition. GMS has agreed to pay the money back if it cannot provide a stadium-ready site. But if the firm does come through, and the league walks away from a deal, then GMS can keep $3.2 million. That amounts to $100,000 per team.

One motivating factor to getting a deal done in L.A. is the negotiation of a new TV contract. The NFL will play three more seasons under its existing deal.

"The league certainly has a passion and a dedication to try to make the L.A. market work," Philadelphia Eagle owner Jeffrey Lurie said.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said there's reason to be encouraged that the current situation isn't just a replay of the multiple-site merry-go-round that seems to crop up on a yearly basis in L.A.

"We need a team in L.A.," he said.

"It's not good for the NFL not to have one. I see us doing whatever we can to get it done."

*

Times staff writers Tina Daunt, Megan Garvey, Jean Merl and Paul Pringle contributed to this report.

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