JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter
PALM DESERT NFL team owners meeting here last week remained unconvinced that plans to refurbish the L.A. Coliseum will succeed leaving Los Angeles sports fans with the $64 question: What’s next?
The answers might come two months from now when league owners meet again in San Diego, said Steve Soboroff, president of Football L.A. He hopes by then the city’s plans to finance a $200 million to $300 million Coliseum reconstruction and entertainment center will be finalized.
“We’re not ready, what do you expect? When we’re ready, you’ll see a reception,” Soboroff said. “I don’t think we should get anything other than a lukewarm reception from owners. We have a lot of things going on, and we’d prefer to be out of the spotlight until everything is nailed down.”
L.A. officials, however, have been saying much the same thing for months. At last fall’s meeting in New Orleans, the Palm Desert session was considered a big deal.
Instead, all that city officials had last week were renderings and models of a rebuilt Coliseum and not a solid financing plan to get the job done.
“How long is this going to take?” said Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens. “I understand that financing a stadium is difficult, especially when you don’t have an owner. But this is an important market and this thing must be completed within a reasonable amount of time.”
Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, said he didn’t even bother to stop by the room where L.A. officials had their renderings.
“I don’t think they’ve really gotten anywhere,” Kraft said.
City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is one of the Coliseum’s staunchest supporters, said no one should be surprised by the lack of immediate action.
“There is broad-based support for the Coliseum in Los Angeles, and team owners are responding favorably to what we have accomplished so far,” he said. “Everyone realizes that this is going to take time to come up with a plan that doesn’t involve a public subsidy and they are giving us that time.”
The apparent lack of enthusiasm for the Coliseum might provide an opening for others including a group that wants to build a stadium in the South Park area near the Convention Center to move forward.
But no one not any of the city’s elected leaders, and not the NFL has yet emerged to publicly suggest pulling the plug on the Coliseum.
“We won’t look at anyone else until Los Angeles decides to consider other options,” said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Tagliabue speculated that L.A. Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley would be an ideal candidate as a franchise owner.
O’Malley developed preliminary plans to build a football stadium near Dodger Stadium but bowed out under pressure to support the Coliseum.
O’Malley, who is now selling the Dodgers, could potentially run an NFL franchise at the Coliseum without the hassle and expense of building a new stadium.
Dodgers spokesman Bob Graziano said that O’Malley’s position hasn’t changed since last fall and that there are no plans to reconsider building a stadium.
Meanwhile, a potential hurdle emerged last week with the assertion by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis that he must give the OK before any new team locates in L.A.
“The (NFL) destroyed us in L.A. They have to answer to that before getting a stadium and a team,” he said.
Davis contends that he has title to L.A. as an NFL site because of a 1982 legal dispute with the league. In that litigation, he had to pay $25 million in order to shift the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles.
A court ruled at the time that the Oakland market was more valuable than the Los Angeles market. He was forced to pay the NFL the difference between Oakland’s value and Los Angeles’ value about $25 million in order to sanction the move, he said.
The same rules should apply now that the team has moved back to Oakland, he said.
However, in this case, the demographics have changed and Los Angeles is considered prime real estate for the NFL. With no teams in the region, an owner might have to pay the league up to $350 million for a franchise, said Joseph Alioto, an attorney for Davis.
“The NFL boomeranged itself in making Al Davis pay last time, now the same rule has come back at them,” said Alioto. “They are going to be killed by their own rule football in L.A. won’t happen until this is taken care of.”
Tagliabue said that he “doubts very much that what (Davis) is saying will hold up in court.”