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With Angel Stadium aging, team could drop the 'of Anaheim'

BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

As the Dodgers' and Angels' owners consider the options for their ballparks, the possibility arises for the Angels to move to downtown L.A. and for the Freeway Series to become the Surface Streets Series.

April 28, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • "Hey, I think I can see Angel Stadium from here." That may not be so far off by 2016, when the Angels can opt out of their stadium lease in Anaheim and move -- perhaps to downtown L.A., seen in the background beyond Dodger Stadium.
"Hey, I think I can see Angel Stadium from here." That may not… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

The smiles should be wide and plentiful. The Dodgers' new owners should take over this week, meeting the media and greeting fans and officially liberating the team from its dysfunctional era.

What could possibly wipe the smiles off the faces of Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and Mark Walter? How about the Angels moving into a new ballpark in downtown Los Angeles, three miles from Dodger Stadium?

As the Dodgers emerge from bankruptcy, the most compelling baseball story in town might well involve how the Dodgers and Angels handle their aging ballparks.

Dodger Stadium just turned 50. The new owners are well aware of its iconic status. They come with the intention of preserving Dodger Stadium, not abandoning it.

The working estimate for ballpark rehabilitation is $300 million. That covers the widened concourses and expanded concession and restroom facilities promised by outgoing owner Frank McCourt, before he ran out of money. That covers infrastructure too — plumbing, electrical wiring, information technology, all the behind-the-scenes stuff fans don't notice until it breaks down.

That's a start. Kasten, the point man for new ballparks in Atlanta and Washington, could discover additional needs and wants, to the point where a new ballpark might not be much more expensive.

The Miami Marlins' new park cost $515 million. The Oakland Athletics' proposed San Jose ballpark would cost about $500 million. However, the Dodgers would want more seats — Miami holds 37,000, San Jose would hold 36,000 — and flashier amenities.

The cost of a new stadium for the Dodgers? Figure $800 million and up, according to two sports executives involved in venue construction. After spending $2.15 billion to buy the Dodgers, the new owners might blanch at a nine-figure contribution to a new ballpark.

AEG is the local expert at building and financing sports facilities. Several of the Dodgers bidders spoke with AEG about a possible new ballpark. Magic and Co. did not.

Arte Moreno apparently did. Moreno, the Angels' owner, and Angels Chairman Dennis Kuhl met this month with AEG President Tim Leiweke, a meeting first reported by the Daily News.

Neither AEG nor the Angels would discuss the meeting. Moreno was traveling and unavailable to discuss his stadium plans, Angels spokesman Tim Mead said.

However, the Angels can exercise an escape clause in their stadium lease in 2016. If they do not, they must remain in Anaheim until 2029.

Angel Stadium turns 50 in 2016, albeit after a substantial makeover in 1997.

In 2005, as Moreno fought the city of Anaheim over his addition of Los Angeles to the team name, he spoke of the possibility of moving out of Angel Stadium.

"What kind of stadium will be left in 2016?" Moreno told The Times then. "I really need to make a call four or five years before that."

That would be now.

It is not surprising that Moreno would talk with Leiweke. The Angels and AEG already are merchandising partners. If the NFL and AEG cannot make a deal within the next year or two, the Angels could be on deck, on the site now reserved for Farmers Field.

The Dodgers could not challenge an Angels move to Los Angeles, at least not in the way the San Francisco Giants are blocking the A's from moving to San Jose.

The Giants have exclusive territorial rights to San Jose. The Dodgers and Angels share an identical territory, including Los Angeles.

This is far from a done deal, or even the start of a deal. AEG would rather have the NFL. Moreno would not limit his options to Anaheim or downtown L.A. so soon.

On the plus side for Anaheim, the hostility between city and team has long since passed, and the two sides have cooperated on the World Baseball Classic and the All-Star game.

Said Mead, the Angels spokesman: "The working relationship between the Angels and the city is a very good one."

Said Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait: "We love having them here, and we think they feel the same."

On the minus side for Anaheim, the city is in no position to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars toward a stadium project. Nor should the city do so. The economic benefits of sports facilities flow to the team far more than to the taxpayer.

For every dollar the Dodgers' new owners paid to buy their team, Moreno paid 8.5 cents to buy his team. The Angels are virtually debt-free. They already have their new television deal, including a 30% ownership stake in Fox Sports West that could be leveraged to finance stadium construction.

If Moreno wants a new ballpark, he has the means to pay much or all of the cost, wherever he might choose. The Farmers Field site is not the only option in Los Angeles.

The most intriguing wrinkle: The Angels' attendance has crashed, even after Moreno shelled out $240 million to buy Albert Pujols.

The Angels sold 27,338 tickets to an April 16 game against Oakland. For the first time in 689 games — a streak extending to 2003 — the Angels sold fewer than 30,000 tickets.

They did it again on April 18, and a third time on April 19. The signing of Pujols triggered the sale of more than 5,000 season tickets, so the star first baseman might have been all that stood between the Angels and a crowd of 22,000.

The Dodgers' new owners figure to outline their stadium plans publicly this week. Moreno figures to keep everyone guessing, in two cities and beyond.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com twitter.com/BillShaikin

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