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Dodgers, NFL Had Meetings

The idea of suggesting a football venue at Chavez Ravine angers those who back the Coliseum plan.

December 29, 2005|Bill Shaikin and Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writers

The Dodgers met with NFL officials twice this fall to discuss the prospect of an NFL stadium next to Dodger Stadium, prompting expressions of frustration and outrage Wednesday among civic leaders who have rallied behind the Coliseum at a time when the league appears close to selecting a stadium site in Southern California.

"I am disappointed and disturbed by both the NFL and the Dodgers -- but much more by the Dodgers," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the Coliseum Commission.

In one meeting in October and another in November, the Dodgers are believed to have floated the concept of a football stadium and retail complex in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, with Dodger owner Frank McCourt interested in owning the NFL team that would play there.

Neither McCourt nor NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue attended the meetings, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday.

The Coliseum and Anaheim are nearing completion of negotiations with the NFL, and league owners could authorize a stadium agreement with one as soon as March.

"We told the McCourt group we were not interested in proceeding unless we're unable to close deals with the Coliseum and Anaheim," Aiello said. "There are no further discussions planned. There are no next steps. We're not negotiating with them."

Aiello called the talks with the Dodgers "exploratory and preliminary" and said they were held at the Dodgers' request. In a statement, McCourt said the interest was mutual.

"I'm a strong supporter of bringing the NFL to Los Angeles," McCourt said. "I have made it abundantly clear I support the Coliseum as the site for the NFL's new stadium. Exploratory conversations were mutually agreed to under this premise.

"There are many what-if scenarios out there. None of those plans has been endorsed by me. So long as the Coliseum is a viable site, Dodger Stadium is not a competing venue."

The meetings were first reported in Wednesday's Boston Herald.

McCourt has been interested in a possible NFL stadium and other development on the parking lot surrounding Dodger Stadium since he bought the Dodgers nearly two years ago. But, in the decade since the Rams and Raiders left town, civic leaders have united behind the Coliseum, pressuring AEG to drop plans for an NFL stadium near Staples Center and persuading former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley to abandon plans for one at Dodger Stadium.

Howard Sunkin, the Dodgers' senior vice president of public affairs, met with the NFL on behalf of the team. Sunkin, a veteran Los Angeles political consultant, joined the Dodgers last year, in part to help McCourt with government issues. Dodger spokeswoman Camille Johnston said Sunkin had not approached civic leaders or community groups about the feasibility of an NFL stadium on Dodger property because no formal plan had been developed.

The City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger all have publicly endorsed the Coliseum.

"I've got to believe he [McCourt] didn't understand the depth and the extent of the community consensus behind the Coliseum as the site for an NFL team in Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said.

Yaroslavsky said the Dodgers had "broken ranks with what has been a united community -- the business, sports, political and environmental communities, all of them behind the Coliseum project."

Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium, said he would not support a football stadium there and noted that McCourt had promised to keep elected officials and community leaders informed of any potential development on the site. Reyes said McCourt had not spoken with him about an NFL stadium.

"If he's making these overtures, it's a big blow to the folks who are building a level of trust with him," Reyes said. "That's important when you're dealing with issues of that scale."

McCourt and other officials have met regularly with the Solano Canyon community group but have not broached the idea of an NFL stadium, spokeswoman Alicia Brown said. The group opposes a football stadium, concerned the traffic and noise would overwhelm the community.

"Mr. McCourt has been sensitive enough to meet with us. He has shown concern about our community," Brown said. "He said, 'If a stadium should ever come into the discussion, you would be the first to know.' "

O'Malley's NFL plans included easing traffic by offering trolley service from Union Station and shuttle service from downtown parking lots otherwise unused on Sundays, said sports facilities consultant Marc Ganis of SportsCorp in Chicago.

The NFL has long coveted the Dodger Stadium site, he said, preferring a new stadium to a revamped Coliseum. However, he said, the league cannot publicly embrace that concept or encourage McCourt because of the local opposition.

"Why should they muck up the water with something that has a low probability of being acceptable?" Ganis said.

"The Dodger Stadium site is arguably the best site for the NFL in the entire Southern California area. Politically, it's D.O.A."

The Dodgers acknowledged as much in a Dec. 5 letter from Sunkin to NFL senior vice president Neil Glat. The one-sentence letter, according to Johnston: "This letter will confirm our mutual agreement that, so long as the Coliseum is a viable site for the NFL's new stadium in Los Angeles, Dodger Stadium should not be considered for a competing venue."

Times staff writer Steve Hymon contributed to this report.

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