As Michael Ovitz, Eli Broad and others working to bring pro football back to L.A. meet with NFL owners in Chicago this week, they will have achieved something that has been in short supply: progress.
Gov. Gray Davis' point man, investment banker Bill Chadwick, is expected to present a "letter of intent" to the league that will outline what the state (which owns the Coliseum and surrounding Exposition Park) would offer in terms of lease payments, parking, naming rights, advertising revenues, concessions and stadium usage.
Also for the first time, Ovitz and Broad are working together and will present a unified proposal. Before now, they had been presenting competing proposals to the National Football League.
No major decisions are expected to be made at this week's meeting of NFL owners, including whether to select Ovitz and Ron Burkle's L.A. Football LLC or Broad and Ed Roski Jr.'s New Coliseum Partners LLC as the new team's ownership group. But optimism is running high that the team owners will be pleased with the progress, and that an L.A. franchise will be officially awarded before the league's Sept. 15 deadline.
"I'm more optimistic than ever that Los Angeles has a real shot a better shot than ever," Broad said.
"I think things are in really good shape," said Ovitz, "based on the fact that we've got a unified site plan, based on the fact that Bill Chadwick is putting together a public-private partnership, and based on the fact that I think we've got everybody lined up in the same direction."
League officials also believe progress is being made.
"This is very complex and it takes time to reach agreement on all details," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "I don't expect to have everything signed, sealed and delivered on Wednesday, but we have made a lot of progress and we expect to make more progress on Wednesday."
Even before Wednesday's meeting, which will be devoted exclusively to the L.A. issue, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had scheduled another meeting on expansion issues, set for Sept. 22.
One issue that surfaced last week and that is expected to help negotiations along is the NFL's financial participation. The league may contribute as much as $150 million to help pay for modernizing the Coliseum.
Aiello said the league often matches a percentage of the amount the new team's owners are paying for stadium construction. In smaller markets, the NFL will kick in 34 percent of what the team owners are paying, but in larger markets like L.A., it could pay as much as 50 percent.
"It's a good sign that the NFL's anteing up," said Bill Mabie, chief aide to state Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Sports and Professional Sports Teams. "And it's kind of a recognition that there really isn't the will for public money to do this on its own."
Mabie said it's still unlikely that money from the state's general fund would be tapped for the renovation a move Davis has opposed. But there is growing willingness to consider using new taxes generated from having a football team at the stadium such as new sales taxes to repay construction debts.
Assemblyman Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes Exposition Park, also seemed optimistic about some type of tax-diversion plan.
"Once you get into a concrete proposal, you can talk about bonds and other sorts of things that would not be quote-unquote state money," said Wright.
Still, some major issues remain unresolved.
Those include the redesign of the Coliseum itself and the parking at Exposition Park. Some of the strongest criticism continues to come from the L.A. Conservancy, which is seeking to preserve the Coliseum's peristyle and historic walls, as well as interior elements of the stadium, which is designated as a national historic landmark.
Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Conservancy, said there have been "significant improvements" to the plan. The biggest, he said, is that the number of parking spaces has been reduced from 27,000 under the previous plan to the current 20,400, with most of the new spaces being located in a proposed three-story structure to be located near where the Sports Arena currently stands.
But he added that problems remain with the design of the stadium itself. Chief among them are a frosted-glass rim that lines the walls of the stadium; seating that does not conform with the Coliseum's bowl shape; and design elements that make the stadium look more like the Roman Colosseum.
Bernstein said the design is "quite far" from conforming to the rehabilitation standards of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who oversees national historic landmarks. "We are looking for some significant design changes to move it forward to being a workable design," he said.
Nevertheless, Bernstein added that he is optimistic that the redesign of the Coliseum, which is being crafted by New York architect David Rockwell, will take into account the L.A. Conservancy's concerns. Bernstein was told that Rockwell has hired a preservation expert, and that the architects will next meet with Conservancy members in three weeks to discuss the Coliseum's design further.
Said Ovitz: "We're listening to everybody's point of view and trying to incorporate them every step of the way. We're trying to blend what everybody wants and trying to reach a consensus."
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