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A Developing Story at Dodger Stadium

Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL

July 24, 2005|Bill Shaikin

It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, for a ballgame today, this summer day in 2015. A sellout crowd converges on Dodger Stadium, with some fans coming early to eat and shop in the promenade surrounding the outfield pavilions, some walking from the Dodger Lofts residential complex on the outskirts of the parking lot and some arriving on the shuttle bus that serves the stadium, the downtown business district and Union Station.

What might Dodger Stadium and the surrounding area look like in 10 years? Use your imagination, or ours. The stadium isn't going anywhere, but the parking lots won't be there forever.

"I see this as a canvas that has yet to be painted," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the district that includes Dodger Stadium.

In May, when owner Frank McCourt refinanced his purchase of the Dodgers, he pledged to his lenders that the team would play in the stadium for the next 25 years. On a conference call announcing the deal, McCourt said he planned to explore development on the 300-acre site.

"We will be looking at the real estate and what might be done with that," he said.

McCourt declined last week to elaborate on those remarks. He first plans to complete a two-year renovation of the stadium itself, and he has promised to meet with community groups and city officials before finalizing any development in the parking area.

Rick Caruso developed the Grove, the wildly successful entertainment and shopping complex adjacent to Farmers Market in the Mid-Wilshire district, and he now is designing a similar project next to Santa Anita, the historic racetrack in Arcadia. Caruso, who said he has not spoken with McCourt, envisions a new kind of Dodgertown on the Dodger Stadium site.

"I think you could build a little community that could be pretty spectacular," Caruso said. "The beauty of that space is you can have residential living downtown and be in a quasi-suburban environment."

For McCourt, there could be beauty in the land value too. The Grove covers only 18 acres, so McCourt could develop a small chunk of the stadium site and still cash in.

How about multistory residences along the edge of the parking lot, less than one acre each, with commanding views of downtown? For that purpose, the land would be worth $6.5 million to $8.7 million an acre, said David Zoraster, commercial real estate appraiser at CB Richard Ellis in Los Angeles.

Add restaurants and shops, not only to serve those residents but to lure fans to come early, stay late and avoid traffic. Build a garage to replace the parking spaces lost to construction, and hire Disney for easy-in, easy-out operation. Get the city and state to help fund off-ramps that lead not onto city streets but directly into the garage, as Disney did in securing a Santa Ana Freeway exit that funnels cars into a Disneyland parking structure.

"To me, a big parking structure doesn't make any sense unless it's connected to the freeways," Reyes said.

Connect the stadium to the neighborhood and ease congestion for all by running a shuttle -- every day, not just on game days. Live at Dodger Stadium, or park there, and catch a shuttle to your downtown office. Ride the shuttle to the ballpark from downtown, or from the Red Line, Gold Line or Metrolink via Union Station. Reyes suggests routing such a bus through Chinatown or Echo Park too, "so the urban experience becomes part of the Dodger experience."

Reyes said McCourt has spoken with him about the Dodgers' interest in stadium development, without providing specifics. Civic leaders and neighborhood associations will have their say, but the councilman said he believes three looming issues -- historic preservation, low-income housing and traffic management -- can be resolved.

"I think we can get to win-win," he said.

Dodger Stadium sits atop a hill, isolated from pedestrian traffic, the antithesis of the contemporary downtown ballpark. Can McCourt really convince restaurant and store owners that they can attract customers to the stadium on days the Dodgers do not play?

At that, Caruso laughed.

"It would be," he said, "like the people who said, 'You can't build the Grove because it's in an old Jewish neighborhood with no freeway access. Who's going to go?' "

In the first year, 18 million people did.

Just Visiting

Yes, it's true: Angel owner Arte Moreno wants his team to play in Mexico.

A game or two in spring training, that is.

"We're trying to broaden our brand," Moreno said. "That would be fun."

As far as moving the team's to Mexico, a rumor circulated recently in USA Today Sports Weekly, Moreno branded the notion absurd.

"Why would anybody in their right mind think we'd move out of this market?" Moreno said. "I've said it since day one: It's the No. 2 media market and the No. 1 entertainment market. I'm not leaving this market."

Moreno said he owns no land in Mexico and has had no business interests in the country since selling his advertising company six years ago.

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