Tear down Dodger Stadium? Unthinkable, say preservationists and die-hard Dodgers fans. Nonetheless, the team's new owner is thinking the unthinkable.

Cost estimates for a major renovation of the 36-year-old stadium are coming in much higher than anticipated. So executives from News Corp.'s Fox Group, which bought the Dodgers in March for $311 million, figure that it may be more cost-effective to tear down the ballpark and build a new one.

"We've gotten to the point where we have the initial cost estimates, and the costs are substantial in terms of the renovation plan we're looking at," said Bob Graziano, president and chief executive of the Dodgers. "I'm not exactly sure how close it is to the cost of a new stadium, but it's getting closer to those numbers."

Graziano would not disclose the renovation estimate, but industry experts said it is likely well above the $118 million that Walt Disney Co. recently paid to renovate Edison Field in Anaheim, where Disney's Angels play. A new ballpark could be built for slightly more than $200 million, experts said.

Graziano said the focus remains on renovation, but news that Fox is even considering tearing down Dodger Stadium where many Angelenos spent their summers eating Dodger Dogs and listening to Vin Scully on portable radios has brought immediate reaction.

"It is one of the postwar public facilities that has really defined the city of Los Angeles, both in the quality of its construction and the important events that have taken place there," said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy. "Its possible demolition would be a real loss to the people of Los Angeles."

Bernstein said that while Dodger Stadium is less than 40 years old, L.A.'s short architectural history means such structures often are thought of as historical.

City Councilman Mike Hernandez, whose district includes Dodger Stadium, said he believes Fox is leaning more toward a renovation than a rebuild. But if a new stadium were proposed, Hernandez said, Angelenos might be convinced to support it.

"I think it's a question of, What do you put in its place?" he said. "We know what's there now, and we love it. If they convince local people that it will be better, there could be support there. There would have to be a lot of dialogue."

To build new luxury boxes, retail stores and restaurants, the stadium's concourses would have to be widened. But because the stadium is built into a hill in Elysian Park, that widening would require expensive excavation.

"I think we realized when we got the initial costing back in mid to late June that we were looking at a bit bigger project than we had already expected," Graziano said. "So I think the prudent approach then was to step back and look at whether this was the right approach, whether the revenue streams we were expecting out of this project can support it."

Graziano said no timeline has been set for making a decision, but that major changes to the stadium have been pushed back to the end of the 1999 baseball season. They had originally been scheduled to begin at the end of this season.

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