For the second winter in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers will not move forward with plans to substantially renovate Dodger Stadium.
The remodel this off-season was supposed to focus on the second, or loge, level and be similar in scope to a 2007-08 first level project that widened the concourse and improved the concession stands. The renovations are all part of a $60 million improvement plan for the stadium announced several years ago by owner Frank McCourt.
The Dodgers confirmed last week that the loge level update has been delayed, but the organization did not elaborate beyond a statement. A source close to the team cited the weak economy. However, others believe that the project may be on hold because of the marital problems of McCourt and his wife, Jamie, whose public battle over the team throws the future ownership of the team into the air.
“When families are in turmoil either because of divorce, death or sometimes it’s illness, large capital projects tend to get frozen,” said Larry Kosmont, an L.A. economic development consultant who counts high-net-worth families and large private companies among his clients. “With privately held companies, when key members are in turbulence, the large projects generally get put aside and they don’t have a reschedule date. They are just put on hold – period.”
The $60 million in stadium improvements are part of the Dodgers’ long-term renovation plan called Next 50. It would also develop an area just outside the ballpark, and that project includes parking garages, an entertainment complex with restaurants and shops, and a new grand entrance to the stadium outside of center field. The original goal was to complete the project by 2012, to coincide with the stadium’s 50th year, but there is no publicly known schedule for when those improvements would break ground.
Both the L.A. and Dallas offices of HKS Architects, the firm handling the stadium’s interior renovations, told the Business Journal that the project delay is the result of the economy.
“They are waiting for the economy to get better. We are in a holding pattern,” said HKS Vice President Andrew Henning, the project manager, who is based in the company’s Dallas headquarters. “We’ve been pursuing the schedule to move up throughout the stadium and eventually everything will get done. They are getting their ducks in a row and need to figure out what would be best for the fans and players.”
For its part, the team provided the Business Journal with a statement that it did not “expect” the loge remodel would be done this off-season, and said that the Next 50 plan is still being reviewed by the city of Los Angeles and has some “redesign options” different from original plans.
“Despite the fact that everyone knows the credit markets are challenging, we’re fully expecting to move forward with the project, albeit with a slightly different timeline,” said Josh Rawitch, vice president of communications for the Dodgers, in the statement.
The loge work was expected to be similar to the remodel of the field level. That project, which was done in the off-season before opening day 2008, widened the concourse, upgraded and expanded restrooms, and remodeled kitchen and concession facilities. Dining options were added, such as Canter’s Delicatessen.
The remodel also included the installation of a chilled-water cooling system for food service. The system, which required the installation of pipes beneath the stadium, was designed to handle the planned renovations on upper levels.
However, it is now unclear when that system will see expanded use. The organization had initially planned to move up through the stadium, remodeling one level each off-season.
The Dodgers chalked up last winter’s delay to lack of time because of the team’s postseason run and the World Baseball Classic, which was held at the stadium earlier this year before the start of the Major League Baseball season.
Although the divorce proceedings may have nothing to do with the delay, the fiery and public nature of the McCourts’ dispute suggests that, at the least, capital improvement projects are not at the forefront for the organization.
Jamie McCourt filed for divorce last week. She is seeking ownership of half the team – which she valued at $800 million – and her attorney said she’s lined up financing to buy out her husband.
For his part, Frank McCourt claimed he owns the entire team.
He fired his estranged wife as chief executive a week earlier – just after the Dodgers lost the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies – at least in part because he alleged that she had an affair with her driver.
The alienated couple’s tussle over ownership will likely hinge on whether the team is community property shared by the McCourts. The intensity and rapidly escalating nature of the dispute has led to speculation the divorce will force the sale of the team.
It is unclear how the divorce proceedings or potential ownership change would affect the longer-term Next 50 plans.
Johnson Fain Partners of downtown Los Angeles, the architect tapped to design that portion of the plan, declined to comment.
“We’ve been told not to comment on that project right now by the client,” said Johnson Fain principal Greg Verabian.
However, the divorce will likely slow down any improvements at the stadium because the legal proceedings would place any expenditure under scrutiny, Kosmont said.
“One claim could be made that the cost of improvements is a devaluing factor. Another claim is that the investment is an escalating valuation factor. It really does place in center stage the cost and value of the improvements,” he said. “It’s very hard to get a clear picture so it makes it harder to move forward with things.”
Frank McCourt’s attorney, Marshall Grossman, did not return calls seeking comment.
Research director David Nusbaum contributed to this story.
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