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Peter O'Malley isn't sure about NFL at stadium

Ex-Dodgers owner says L.A. has changed since he backed football plan at Chavez Ravine 10 years ago.

December 04, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Peter O'Malley, the former Dodgers owner who tried to lure the NFL to Dodger Stadium a decade ago, said Monday he is no longer sure that site is the best one for a football stadium in Los Angeles.

"Ten years ago, we thought it would be an ideal site," O'Malley said. "Patterns and habits [in traffic and growth] change over the years. I'm not sure what part of the city, geographically, would be a good location."

O'Malley, in his first public comments since Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said last week the Coliseum "is no longer a viable option for the NFL," said he had come to that conclusion a decade ago.

"A lot of us believed the NFL would not go to the Coliseum," O'Malley said. "It now appears the NFL is not in the future of the Coliseum. I'd like to see SC get control of that facility."

At the request of city leaders pushing the Coliseum, O'Malley abandoned his pursuit of the NFL. He sold the Dodgers to Fox in 1997, citing in part the inability to secure an NFL franchise to mitigate the escalating costs of baseball ownership.

In 2004, Fox sold the team to Frank McCourt. The Dodgers met with NFL officials twice in 2005 to discuss a possible stadium at Chavez Ravine, then backed away after the plan became public.

McCourt issued a statement saying he would support the Coliseum "so long as the Coliseum is a viable site." He has declined to comment since Villaraigosa's statement, but one major league official said McCourt told him in recent weeks that an NFL stadium remained "a possibility."

According to well-placed sources in the sports community, McCourt and unnamed partners intend to make another run at the NFL after making major changes to Dodger Stadium and the surrounding areas. The plan, which involves as much as half a billion dollars in investments, calls for upgrading the venue and augmenting it with a nearby mixed-use development that includes retail shops, housing and the like.

McCourt has explored options for developing the Dodger Stadium parking lot since he bought the team, and the 2005 NFL discussions involved a retail and entertainment complex next to the ballpark and an NFL stadium. An internal memo obtained by the Boston Herald two years ago claimed McCourt could bask in the "psychic benefits of being the guy that brought football to L.A."

Tom Lasorda, who managed under O'Malley, said Monday he believed O'Malley still would own the Dodgers today if he had landed an NFL team.

O'Malley, speaking on a conference call after the election of his late father, Walter, to the Hall of Fame, declined to say whether his family would still own the Dodgers had city leaders blessed an NFL stadium in Chavez Ravine.

"That's hypothetical," O'Malley said. "I said at the press conference when we sold the team it was a factor. It certainly was. I hope the city gets an NFL franchise soon. I hope the team can play in a state-of-the-art, outstanding facility. That's what the fans deserve.

"It's a tough puzzle to solve."

Since the Raiders and Rams left Southern California after the 1994 season, the league has explored many options for returning. Stadium concepts have emerged, folded and re-emerged over the years, with backers each time claiming they had the plan to finally reunite America's No. 1 sports league and No. 2 TV market.

So far, it hasn't worked out. Most recently, the league informed Coliseum officials that their plan is not economically feasible. And it appears Anaheim is moving forward with a retail development -- and not a football stadium -- in the parking lot of Angel Stadium.

Meanwhile, billionaire developer Ed Roski is working on a proposal for an NFL stadium on land he owns in Industry, and league executives met with him last month during a West Coast swing.

A major sticking point for the league: Unlike in other areas, where a public contribution helps offset the enormous cost of building a stadium, there's no appetite in Southern California for spending taxpayer money to subsidize a sports venue.

"We remain interested in having a team in the Los Angeles area, provided we can identify the right economic solution, including developing suitable stadium facilities," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "It would have to be a solution that made sense for both the NFL and the community."

Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium, said he respects Villaraigosa and his comments but would not consider withdrawing his support for the Coliseum until he meets with fellow Councilman Bernard Parks, whose district includes the Coliseum.

Reyes said the Dodgers have not discussed an NFL stadium proposal with him recently and said he would meet with neighborhood groups about any such concept before meeting with Frank and Jamie McCourt.

"What is real critical to me is the community's concern," Reyes said. "There is an absolute need to have that as the highest priority. Then I would speak to the McCourts."

If the Coliseum is off the table, Reyes said he hopes to learn more about the costs and benefits of an NFL stadium, whether at Dodger Stadium or elsewhere in the city.

"I don't want my district or the city to be used as an ATM," he said.

Christine Peters, president of the Citizens' Committee to Save Elysian Park who serves on the Dodgers' neighborhood advisory council, said the Dodgers have not brought up the NFL stadium idea since the McCourt plan surfaced two years ago. She said neighborhood groups expressed their opposition to the construction of a new stadium in Chavez Ravine at that time and would do so again if necessary.

"It was shot down by the community," she said. "It would continue to be shot down by the community."

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Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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