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Blue Heaven unlikely to be NFL haven

11/5/2011
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Chavez Ravine was once viewed as the perfect location for the NFL’s return to Los Angeles.

After the Raiders and Rams left Southern California in 1995, Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan worked with Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley on building a NFL stadium on the 352-acre site to attract an expansion team. Riordan, however, pulled the plug on the project and encouraged everyone to get behind the consistently doomed Coliseum renovation, which would prove to be a nonstarter for the NFL over the next decade.

Now that the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium and the surrounding real estate are for sale, some are talking about Chavez Ravine once again being the site of an NFL stadium.

Interestingly enough, much of the talk has come from within the Coliseum Commission, which was the biggest reason the original Dodger Stadium plan failed in the first place.

“I have a close eye on the NFL because the word is they love Chavez Ravine,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told The Times this week. “With this transaction, the implications are huge … if a new owner has a dual-use scenario in his or her mind — we all know there's a scramble to return football here — and the quest is what makes the most sense.”

It was Ridley-Thomas who actually spearheaded the movement to get Riordan to drop the his Dodger Stadium plans and rally the city's support behind the Coliseum as the only viable site for an NFL team in Los Angeles even though the league had already said it wasn't an option.

Chavez Ravine, however, is no longer a viable option for an NFL stadium and an NFL team, at least not for the foreseeable future and here's why:

Sale of the Dodgers

Before we can even think about an NFL stadium being built near Dodgers Stadium, the Dodgers need to be sold. The sale isn’t expected to be completed until April 2012 at the earliest and could take longer. Once the new owner is in place, the first order of business will be revamping the front office and roster, remodeling the stadium and perhaps redeveloping the real estate around the stadium. The focus of the new owner for at least the first year must be to improve the Dodgers and the Dodgers’ fan experience.

There is no way a new owner would announce at the introductory press conference that their first priority as the new Dodgers owner is to build a new football stadium and attract an NFL team to Los Angeles. If that happened, chances are Dodgers fans would turn on the new owner almost as fast as they did Frank McCourt. Dodgers’ fans want someone who will use their money and influence to sign big-name free agents and improve the stadium, not worry about the NFL.

Show me the money

The most popular phrases you hear from the familiar names (Peter O’Malley, Fred Claire, Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser, etc.) being bandied about as part of an ownership group to buy the Dodgers is “capital” and “financing.” The next owner of the team will likely have to pay $1 billion for the team and Major League Baseball will rigorously make sure the next owner doesn’t just have enough to buy the team. They want to make sure they have enough money for gas after buying the car. They want the new owner to have enough capital to raise the team’s payroll to about $160 million so the Dodgers can compete with other major metropolitan cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. They also want to make sure the owner has another $500 million more to spend on remodeling the stadium and redeveloping the area around the stadium as McCourt had planned to do before, you know, running out of money.

So you’re looking at an investment of about $1.7 billion in the Dodgers before you can even think about turning around and then attempting to build a new $1 billion football stadium and then pay market rate for an ownership stake in a team (24 of 32 NFL teams are worth at least $901 million, according to Forbes) that would relocate to Los Angeles. You’re now looking at an over $3 billion investment for this fairytale sports empire in Chavez Ravine. Buying the Dodgers and turning around the team is a tall enough order for anyone, let alone having to worry about building a new football stadium attracting an NFL team.

Timeline

So let’s say a new Dodgers owner is announced April 2012 and let’s say they have enough sense to at least wait until after the season in November 2012 to announce plans to build a football stadium at Chavez Ravine. A fast-tracked environmental impact report of that size would take about 16 months and wouldn’t be completed until February 2014 at the earliest, meaning a team probably wouldn’t be able to move to Los Angeles until February 2015, since teams have to notify the NFL in writing of their intention to relocate by Feb. 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur.

Now let’s forget for a moment that the Dodgers Stadium timeline would be two years behind the current proposals in downtown Los Angeles and the City of Industry and focus on the fact that this NFL in Los Angeles story will likely come to a head February 2013. AEG will be done with its EIR and definitive agreement with the city in June 2012 and will likely be able to be in a position to break ground soon after, which would put it on even footing from a “shovel ready” standpoint as the City of Industry site. Meanwhile, the Chargers and Vikings will find out November of 2012 if they will get public funding for their new stadium proposals. If one or both of them don’t, they will likely position themselves to move to Los Angeles three months later.

AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke said he would be willing to wait until 2013 to get a team but that the Farmers Field proposal wouldn’t be around after 2013. Warehouse magnate Ed Roski has done nothing but wait for an NFL team since 1995 but chances are if he doesn’t get a team by 2013, he too, will move on and use his 600-acre lot for other purposes. He has already talked to Industry officials about the possibility of building retail stores instead of an NFL stadium on the site.

If the NFL does end up being played at Chavez Ravine after 2014 instead of downtown or Industry, it won't be because it beat them out but because it simply came around after both projects, like so many before it, died after 2013.