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$300-million fixer-upper

Municipally owned bowls such as Pasadena's are scraping by for repairs

January 01, 2007|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Now that Pasadena residents have pulled out the welcome mat for the NFL, debate is shifting to what improvements need to be made at the Rose Bowl, how much they will cost and who will foot the bill.

Similar discussions are underway about Miami's Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, two other municipally owned bowls that are showing their age.

The Rose Bowl's to-do list includes new seats, wider concourses, a state-of-the-art video scoreboard and new field lighting. Cotton Bowl restrooms and concourses need an extreme makeover. And in the Orange Bowl, water drips onto some fans, even when it isn't raining.

Those charged with safeguarding the city-owned bowls say they're simply trying to keep the landmarks from become costly white elephants for taxpayers. Pasadena, for example, relies upon $2 million generated by the nearby municipal golf courses to keep the Rose Bowl afloat financially.

"The problem is that we have an 84-year old stadium that loses money," said Fred Claire, former Dodgers general manager and a member of the Pasadena-appointed board that oversees Rose Bowl operations. "So 2007 is going to be a very important time for the Rose Bowl. The NFL issue is now resolved for this time, and the focus certainly needs to be on a strategic plan."

Keeping old bowls safe and comfortable is a challenge. Football-centric bowls don't easily lend themselves to other revenue-generating events. The three municipally owned bowls also must compete for city funds with police departments, sewage treatment plants and street repair crews.

The city of Pasadena nets $1.5 million annually from the long-term lease that the UCLA football team recently signed. The Tournament of Roses and a weekend flea market held in the Rose Bowl concourse each contribute $900,000. But that isn't enough money to cover expenses, so to make ends meet, the bowl, in effect, borrows money each year from the profitable city golf courses nearby.

A major expense would upset Pasadena's delicately balanced budget. "The first thing that will take a hit will be maintenance," said Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn. "And if we can't take care of the facility, the concern is long-term deterioration of the stadium. And we don't want to let that happen."

Maintenance costs are only one part of the Rose Bowl equation. A preliminary list of capital improvements includes wider aisles, additional exits, a wider concourse, a renovated press box, additional suites and a club.

The cost, if all of that were to be built, would be between $250 million and $300 million, according to city documents. That is comparable to what city officials in Miami and Dallas say it would take to complete major overhauls of their aging bowls, renovations that aren't going to occur given strapped city budgets.

Stadium operators admit it will be tough to do everything on their wish lists. "We know that the amount and scope of what we'd like to do exceeds our available budget," said Gary Fabrikant, the Miami city official in charge of the Orange Bowl, which a decade ago lost its namesake college football bowl to Dolphin Stadium.

Miami has earmarked $85 million for adding modern restrooms, pedestrian-friendly concourses and other improvements at the stadium that was completed in 1937. The plan also calls for some luxury suites and club seating. A top-to-bottom renovation would cost about $200 million.

In Dallas the bare-bones renovation underway at the 76-year-old Cotton Bowl will cost $56 million. A decision on adding suites will be delayed until the city knows if its tenants are going to stick around. The tab for a completely refurbished stadium has been estimated at about $300 million.

Bowl operators are trying to add soccer matches, concerts and other events to their football-oriented facilities. Ticket surcharges, a bigger share of tourism-related taxes, naming rights deals with corporate sponsors and other public-private partnerships also are being considered.

City officials fear that, absent renovations, the buildings could slide into disrepair, prompting their football tenants to move.

Speculation has begun in Dallas about the fate of the Cotton Bowl's two big games -- the Red River Rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma and the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. Miami city officials are in discussions with the University of Miami about its plans after its Orange Bowl lease expires in 2009.

The Rose Bowl is the most financially secure of the three city-owned bowls, in part because the Pasadena landmark and the L.A. Coliseum are the only big stadiums available for UCLA and USC football.

The Rose Bowl has also has signed long-term contracts with its two major tenants. The Tournament of Roses lease runs through 2019. UCLA recently signed a lease that runs through 2023, but the university also demanded that Pasadena pay for a $16-million expansion of the Rose Bowl's locker room.

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