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Anaheim Works to Build a Downtown for All O.C.

City wants a site near Angel Stadium to be the county's urban core -- NFL team or not.

August 29, 2004|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

More than 9,000 homes, 7 million square feet of offices and stores, a baseball field, a hockey arena and -- just maybe -- an NFL stadium.

That's Anaheim's grand vision for its "Platinum Triangle," an area the city touts as Orange County's future downtown.

The concept got a boost last week with news that the National Football League is considering the site for a new stadium, which would host the Los Angeles region's first pro football team in nearly a decade. But a blueprint for the Platinum Triangle was completed long before NFL officials came knocking -- and is one of the reasons for their interest, city officials say.

The 807-acre site, a triangle wedged between the Santa Ana Freeway and the Santa Ana River just east of Disneyland, is a central element of Anaheim's new general plan, approved earlier this year. Four developers so far have proposed building portions of the project, city officials say.

The city envisions an urban center in a sea of suburban sprawl -- a thriving commercial hub with after-hours entertainment and a built-in customer base of thousands living in the 9,175 condominiums and apartments zoned for the area.

The concept is part of a broader development trend that has been sweeping Southern California. From Pasadena to Los Angeles to Long Beach and Irvine, planners and developers have struggled to bring vitality to drab downtowns and commercial districts by adding housing and entertainment venues.

The Platinum Triangle already houses Angel Stadium, the Arrowhead Pond and the Grove of Anaheim, a concert and meeting hall. Otherwise it is a humdrum collection of parking lots, office buildings, factories and restaurants. Anaheim officials are betting on the draw of the existing venues to help create crowds and demand for other entertainment.

The formula has proved successful in such cities as San Francisco and San Diego, where new ballparks -- SBC Park and Petco Park, respectively -- have helped reinvigorate the areas around them.

"We get the luxury of doing it the other away around," said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle. "We don't need to clear urban areas to build a stadium; we get to build the urban around an existing stadium."

The proposed football facility would be built somewhere on a vast parking lot northwest of Angel Stadium. Already approved is an environmental report for a football stadium, prepared in 1996 as part of a plan to link the area's major sports venues. The private venture, called Sportstown, failed because the developer could not raise the money to build it.

But the city's new general plan and its push to develop the Platinum Triangle into a regional attraction made the site appealing to NFL officials, Pringle said. "The word they used was 'destination,' " he said.

NFL officials have been careful to stress that Anaheim is just one of the options they are considering in their bid to bring professional football back to the Southland.

The country's second biggest media market hasn't had a team since the Rams and Raiders left in 1995. A new stadium would be financed by the NFL, and Anaheim officials said the city would not subsidize it.

Some have suggested that the league is using Anaheim as leverage to extract better deals from other proposed sites in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles has been trying to woo the league to the Coliseum, and Pasadena is hoping to house a team in the Rose Bowl. Carson has an outside chance, but its proposed stadium would be on a landfill site and cleanup costs could reach $80 million. The league is expected to decide by May.

But Anaheim shouldn't be too concerned if it misses out on the football stadium, said Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, a development think tank.

Football stadiums, unlike baseball, hockey and basketball venues, are poor development engines, he said. For one, there are fewer games in the football season, which means the stadiums remain empty most of the time -- even during the playing season.

"What good is a football stadium on a Friday night?" he said. "This isn't a bad thing if Anaheim wants to become a place known for sports teams rather than just Disneyland. They can use it as a way to franchise and market the city, but in terms of the site itself, it will not stimulate development."

Anaheim officials say the football stadium is not crucial for the development of the Platinum Triangle, but it would be a welcome addition.

"It is very compatible with our vision," Pringle said. "The easy answer is: It will bring people there."

At least as uncertain as the city's bid for a football stadium is its ambition to make the Platinum Triangle a downtown for notoriously suburban Orange County.

Other cities have vied to be Orange County's urban anchor in recent years. Santa Ana recently approved a 37-story office tower just north of downtown, and there are plans for high-rise residential buildings as well.

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