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NFL stadium at Chavez Ravine tough sell with Frank McCourt in the mix

Documents show the former Dodgers owner has the option to buy back Dodger Stadium land if another sports facility is built there. That doesn't bode well for an NFL deal at the site.

June 13, 2013|Sam Farmer
  • Because of Frank McCourt's ability to demand involvement in an future sports arena constructed at Chavez Ravine, the chances of building an NFL stadium at the site are a long shot at best.
Because of Frank McCourt's ability to demand involvement in an future… (Los Angeles Times )

The improbable dream is now even more unlikely.

The romantic idea of an NFL stadium at Chavez Ravine, one that overlooks downtown Los Angeles, was already a long shot. News that Frank McCourt is in position to demand some involvement only increases the degree of difficulty.

The Los Angeles Times obtained documents Wednesday that show the unpopular former Dodgers owner has the option to buy back land if another sports facility — let's say an NFL football stadium — is built on Dodger Stadium property.

That could be strike three for the NFL.

No one wants to help McCourt pull off an image makeover, and certainly not football fans in L.A.

We already know McCourt is interested in being an NFL owner. That much was clear in 2005, when he quietly pitched a proposal for a 65,000-seat football stadium in the Dodger Stadium parking lot — code name: Five Ton Gorilla — with him owning both teams.

However, it has been made clear to me — by several NFL owners and executives on multiple occasions — that they have no interest in McCourt's owning a team or being in partnership with the league. If it were to involve buying out McCourt, an already astronomical deal would become even more expensive.

That said, this is not a death knell for the Dodger Stadium concept, because the NFL has never completely given up on an option during the course of this now-18-year saga. And if the league were to toss out every deal based on the objectionable personalities of the participants, it might never do another deal.

All the league wants to know is, can a business deal be done that's attractive to the NFL?

There are merits to the Chavez Ravine site, of course. An NFL stadium on the hill is a cool concept, and one that has intrigued NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others since then-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley floated the idea in the mid-1990s.

Incidentally, O'Malley wanted a young Goodell to be general manager of that L.A. football team. All that went away when the city threw its weight behind the Coliseum — part of the political horse trading required to get Staples Center done — and a slighted O'Malley pulled the plug on his plan.

In recent years, as competing plans for stadiums downtown and in city of Industry have steadily lost steam, the NFL has circled back and taken another look at Dodger Stadium. In fact, the notion of putting an NFL team there might have really gotten legs had St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke been successful in his bid to buy the Dodgers.

But when Guggenheim outbid everyone for the Dodgers, and cut a deal that didn't root out McCourt, the likelihood of an NFL stadium there took a big hit. McCourt isn't the only problem. Getting the site entitled for a football stadium, including untangling all of the traffic and neighborhood issues, would take five years at a minimum, and the project would surely be a litigation magnet.

L.A. politicians are not going to be supercharged to chase yet another stadium project, especially after seeing Farmers Field, a concept they strongly supported, fall by the wayside.

A quick update on Farmers Field: That proposal lost significant momentum this year when point man Tim Leiweke left AEG. And even though billionaire Phil Anschutz said he was ready and willing to strike a deal with the NFL, the sides are drifting further apart on what they consider a fair deal to be.

Anschutz still has a lot of items on his L.A. to-do list. He needs to re-up his Staples Center lease. He'd like AEG to run the convention center. He continues to reshape the skyline. So there's little chance he'll simply throw up his hands and walk away from the NFL, something that might embarrass those politicians who went out on a limb for Farmers Field. Chances are, that proposal will just quietly fade away like so many other failed football visions.

The Industry deal is still there as it has been for five years, but nobody in the NFL is jumping at the chance to build there.

L.A. is as far away from an NFL team as it has been at any point since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

But an L.A. with no viable options is not a good situation for the NFL — even if the nation's No. 2 market is only being used as leverage to get stadium deals done in other cities. How does the league make cities such as San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland sweat if there's not even a hint of any action in L.A.?

The NFL won't publicly drive a stake through any proposal — the league thrives on competition, so the more the merrier — and it's likely to breathe new life into some old concepts (Hello, Hollywood Park!).

As long as McCourt is entwined in the Chavez Ravine arrangement, a lot of people in the NFL will be deal dodgers.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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