Monday, March 9, 2009

Latino Mayor pushes stadium for NFL team

Tiny city industriously pursues NFL stadium
Chargers could be among teams asked to occupy it
By Ronald W. Powell Union-Tribune March 8, 2009

Mayor David Perez gunned the accelerator, coaxing the van up a steep, weed-choked path to the crest of a hill where his tiny-but-big-thinking City of Industry plans to host a new National Football League stadium.

“All right,” Perez said with a hearty chuckle as the vehicle fishtailed along the bumpy, slippery trail. “We're on a song and a prayer now.”

At the end of the treacherous ride was a plateau with an unobstructed view of 600 open acres where Perez is certain that an $800 million stadium and entertainment complex will soon break ground.

“This is it,” Perez said, throwing his arms wide. “Isn't this a great location?”

There have been many stadium proposals in the Los Angeles area since the Raiders and Rams departed Southern California in 1995. Los Angeles, Anaheim, Carson and Irwindale have all tried and failed.

This time, Los Angeles billionaire Ed Roski plans to build the facility that brings professional football back to the Los Angeles area. And Perez is certain this time will be different because his city, Industry, is just what the name says.

Unlike Chula Vista, where a Chargers bid for a stadium is bogged down by the lack of a ready site, Industry has an unoccupied parcel that it has leased to Roski for the next 65 years.

It also has a small resident population that welcomes the facility, although the neighboring cities of Walnut and Diamond Bar oppose it.

Industry incorporated in 1957 as a place where business is king. It's packed with massive warehouses. Freight-train tracks bisect much of the municipality. It has 186 miles of red curbs, which may be a hardship on Industry's roughly 800 residents but keeps the streets clear for more than 50 major commercial trucking lines.

And, as Perez said, it has something else: location. The rolling acreage on the city's east end would draw fans from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties. Stadium proponents say more than 15 million people live within an hour's drive.

From the top of the hill, traffic is flowing below, where state Route 57, out of Orange County, and state Route 60, from Los Angeles County, intersect.

“We're 21 miles east of downtown L.A.,” Perez said. “There is nothing on the freeway that still has this much open land.”

Roski's Majestic Realty Co. may soon begin knocking on doors of NFL teams. The Chargers, who have been trying to get a new stadium since 2002, could be asked.

The family of Chargers President Dean Spanos has long been friends with Roski and had conversations with him last spring after the project was announced.

“We think he has an interesting project with a creative design that will help reduce construction costs,” said Mark Fabiani, the team's general counsel and stadium spokesman. “But as far as the Chargers are concerned, we're still focusing our efforts on San Diego County.”

Fabiani added, “It's a credible location for an NFL team, but that doesn't mean there will ever be one there.”

The NFL is monitoring the development but hasn't made a determination, spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

“This proposal appears interesting, but will require significant analysis,” McCarthy said.

The league has no problem with the developer's plan to contact teams. But a team would have to notify the league office of its desire to move, and none has done so, McCarthy said.

He wouldn't comment on which teams would be likely candidates for the Industry site, saying, “Our goal is to work with the clubs to be successful in their existing markets.”

Roski's business ties to Industry date to the 1960s, when he built several warehouses on land leased from the city. He has since expanded the warehouse and distribution business and built the opulent, hilltop Pacific Palms Resort on property leased from the city.

Roski also is a major player in Los Angeles development. He was a partner in the development of Staples Center and the L.A. Live entertainment venue. He is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise. He is declining interview requests on the stadium proposal.

Experts in sports business say NFL team owners will need much more information about what Roski wants before deciding to tee up a deal with him.

Does he want to acquire a major stake in a team or simply lease out the stadium? Does he want to sell his land-development rights and wash his hands of the project?

Meanwhile, the bedroom communities of Walnut and Diamond Bar, southeast of Industry, are threatening to sue to force a new environmental report on the stadium project.

Such a report was initially prepared in 2004, describing a 4.8 million-square-foot business and commercial center. It would have included industrial buildings, retail businesses and offices.

After Roski announced plans in April 2008 to build a stadium and entertainment complex instead, a supplemental report was produced. Diamond Bar and Walnut say it doesn't adequately cover the plan for a stadium.

The first document estimated that the business and commercial center would generate 67,993 car trips per weekday. The supplemental report predicted less traffic for a stadium.

Walnut City Manager Robert Wishner doesn't buy it.

“The notion of a football stadium being built directly adjacent to our community is a great concern for many of our residents,” Wishner said. “We're a quiet community, and that would obviously have a big impact on us.”

An election in January showed the ease with which Industry moves. City residents voted 60-1 to authorize the city to pursue as much as $180 million in bonds for stadium infrastructure.

The money will pay to bring utilities to the project site, make road improvements and build ramps to state Route 60. That money would be repaid through a tax on tickets and parking at the stadium.

Last month, the City Council voted 5-0 to approve the disputed environmental report on the plan. Despite the possible lawsuit, Perez believes the stadium will move forward if Roski can secure financing.

Wishner said “the likelihood is great” that his city will challenge the environmental document on the stadium in court. But that may not stop the project.

“We understand that a challenge to an environmental impact report will not kill a project, only delay it,” Wishner said.

While the location might suit a stadium from a transportation standpoint, it may lack the population base to make the performing-arts center, movie theater and restaurants successful, said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College and author of many books on the sports business.

Zimbalist said Roski may find the going tough if he plans to pay for the stadium through revenue from the entertainment project.

“Although you can get people to drive out there one time a week to see a game, it's not the same thing to get them out there for entertainment purposes,” Zimbalist said.

Los Angeles wants an NFL team, and Industry's location isn't an impediment, said David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council. Simon said his group hasn't taken a position on the proposal but doesn't believe it would carry that much weight if it did.

“The only people who matter in this are the people in the NFL,” Simon said. “It's their call. And when they're ready to come back, it will happen in a hurry.”

Chargers fan Tom Channick started a Web site 18 months ago in support of the team reaching a stadium deal in San Diego County. However, the slow pace makes Channick think the Chargers could go the way of the San Diego Clippers basketball team, which moved to Los Angeles in 1984.

“Los Angeles is a bigger market, and Roski is friends with the Chargers'owners,” said Channick, a recent graduate of San Diego State University. “I think that if I was running the Chargers, my team would already be in the City of Industry.”

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