By DANIEL TAUB
The wills clash again.
At their meeting in Atlanta last week, the National Football League team owners may have been focusing on the parking issue at a rebuilt Coliseum, but what they really want is more public funding.
Fat chance, say local and state officials.
Caught between this clash of wills? The two investment groups competing against each other to bring the 32nd NFL team to Los Angeles.
“They don’t get it,” one source close to the negotiations said of NFL owners. “They don’t get Los Angeles. They just don’t get it.”
Get it or not, more public financing is exactly what NFL owners are seeking. That was made clear when a number of owners, as well as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, lavished praise on a plan presented by former Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz that calls for about 27,000 parking spaces to be built adjacent to the stadium, at a projected cost of $225 million.
Given the economics of renovating the Coliseum and paying the expected $500 million-plus franchise fee for the new team, the cost of building parking garages is expected to fall to taxpayers.
The competing investment group, led by billionaire Eli Broad, is also planning to use public money (proceeds from state-issued bonds) to pay for new parking garages. While that plan is widely perceived to be more feasible, because it would require only $67.5 million in public money, it has failed to elicit much excitement from NFL owners.
By endorsing Ovitz’s parking plan, Tagliabue and other NFL officials are effectively saying that they want to see more public money close to $160 million more, based on the difference between the costs of the two plans.
And NFL officials evidently plan to take their case directly to state officials, rather than rely on either Broad or Ovitz. The state is widely seen as the primary potential source of public money because Exposition Park, where the Coliseum sits, is state-owned property.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that league officials will meet with state officials within the next 30 days to discuss public funding. He would not identify the state officials.
“We have to meet with the appropriate government entities and work cooperatively,” Aiello said. “There are people on the ground in leadership roles who can come up with ideas to move the process forward.”
One of the key “people on the ground” is state Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, whose district includes the Coliseum. Murray last week sounded eager to start talks with NFL officials.
“I think both the NFL and the state need to sit down in a room,” he said, adding that both sides can then air their needs and desires. “There (will be) some give and take, and some trading. That’s the way deals are done. But in order to do a deal, you have to have both parties.”
Once NFL representatives start talking face to face with state officials, Murray said, they will come to understand the limitations that exist for public funding.
“The people of Los Angeles and the people of California are not going to give away a bunch of money just to have that business, or frankly any other business,” he said.
Another source close to the negotiations agreed that NFL owners won’t comprehend the public funding situation until they meet with state officials.
“They’re going to have to dance through it and understand for themselves. They haven’t had experience with an L.A. or New York, where honestly they need us more than we need them. We’re going to live without (NFL football),” the source said.
Other state and local officials have been more adamant that there be no giveaways a group that includes Assemblyman Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan.
“Certainly I will fight any penny of the city general fund going into an NFL team,” Riordan said during his monthly “Ask the Mayor” radio program. “Not when our streets need re-paving, we need more police, better parks, better libraries.”
Both Broad and Ovitz say that, in presenting their respective plans to the NFL, they have tried to make it clear that public funds for building parking adjacent to the stadium would be limited.
Ovitz said he presented his 27,000-parking-space plan because the NFL requested at least 25,000 spaces. But, he added, his design is modular, so the number of spaces and the cost of building them could be easily reduced without requiring a whole new redesign.
“We’re not asking anybody for $225 million,” Ovitz said. “They (NFL officials) asked us to do a design that would incorporate a solution if they had all the money they needed, and that’s what we did. How it gets funded is the next step. That’s what everyone’s working on now.”
But what happens if no additional public funding can be secured?
That’s what concerns Broad and others. They worry that Ovitz’s flashy plan is raising the league’s expectations to unrealistic heights.
Broad said he has tried to make clear to the NFL that it would be impossible to get the type of public funding Ovitz’s parking plan would require.
“They would like to see some additional public funding,” Broad said. “And I think they’ve clearly understood there’s no way on Earth they are going to get the $225 million that Ovitz proposed. And why he proposed it is beyond my comprehension, since no one on Earth believes that’s possible.”
Many observers believe the chief reason the NFL wants more public funding besides maintaining the ability to seek similar funding in other cities is to free up more of the potential L.A. team owner’s money. With the team owner spending less on the stadium facilities, the NFL could charge that owner a higher franchise fee.
“The reality is, if you give them anything, it’s just like giving the league owners a bunch of money,” said City Councilman Joel Wachs, who successfully fought public funding for the downtown Staples Center sports arena. “So why should we?”
Broad said he is aware that government officials are wise to that potential NFL gambit. “What the state is not going to do or anyone’s going to do is provide public financing in order for the league to get a higher franchise fee,” he said. “No one’s going to do that.”
Most parties involved in the negotiations still believe the NFL will ultimately award the 32nd NFL team to Los Angeles, rather than to Houston, where city, county and other public entities are offering more than $200 million in public funds to lure a team. But to get the L.A. deal done, a greater amount of public funding than the $67.5 million Broad’s group has identified may be needed.
“The NFL’s got options,” said one political analyst who’s been following the negotiations. “The NFL will get a lot of what it wants. Will it get everything? No. Will it get 27,000 spaces? No. Twenty thousand? Probably. We’ll get something akin to what Ovitz wants.”
Added Murray: “The NFL wants to be in Los Angeles; we want them to be in Los Angeles. Presumably there is some give on both sides. My assessment is that a deal with the NFL is doable.”