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The L.A. City Council yesterday "approved the outlines of a $1.5-billion deal to develop" Farmers Field and a new wing of the convention center, according to Zahniser & Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. The unanimous vote is the "most significant step toward bringing NFL football" back to L.A. It also is a "victory for politically influential developer" AEG, which "overcame concerns from some council members and activists that the city was rushing into a risky deal that could compound its budget woes." In the end, city negotiators "shifted more financial risk to AEG and promised a full examination of the project's environmental impacts." AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke said, "It sends a very strong message to the NFL owners. We did it. We were unanimous." More detailed negotiations "will continue for months, but AEG can now step up efforts to pursue a team from another city -- a linchpin of the development agreement." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones: "It's big for the leaders there to make the commitment they have." AEG already is "working on state legislation to limit the type of legal challenges -- including one it fears from backers of a competing stadium in the City of Industry -- that could be filed against the project on environmental grounds" (L.A. TIMES, 8/10). In Orange County, Scott Reid writes the city council vote "not only sent a clear signal to the NFL’s league office and owners’ suites, but also shifted the dynamic in AEG’s bid to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles-Orange County market." L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti: "They need this market. We want them to be here with one team, maybe two teams. But today I think the NFL knows Los Angeles is open for business for football" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/10).
READY FOR THE NEXT STEP: ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi wrote yesterday's vote was "perhaps the biggest step Los Angeles has taken in 16 years of trying to bring the NFL back." An actual deal between AEG and the city is "still about 10 months from becoming a reality, with the completion of an environmental impact report not expected until the spring." AEG is "hoping to begin construction on the project in June 2012, with Farmers Field opening in September 2016" (ESPNLA.com, 8/9). In L.A., Jon Regardie wrote the vote "marked a significant, if not defining point, in AEG's effort." Leiweke indicated that an "announcement about a franchise in Los Angeles would not occur until, at the soonest, the end of the upcoming NFL season," adding that "no construction will occur until there is an agreement with a franchise." He reiterated that in any deal, AEG Chair Phil Anschutz "would have partial ownership of the franchise." Leiweke said that the deal "does not work financially without that" (LADOWNTOWNNEWS.com, 8/9). He said, "It does not make sense for us to be only the landlord. We are looking at a model like Staples, where Mr. Anschutz has an interest in the teams. ... He has agreed to allow us to go to design drawings. But we will not invest the $1 billion-plus for a stadium without a team" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/10). Several franchises have been mentioned as possible tenants for Farmers Field, and Leiweke said, "I think up until now we’ve been pursing them. My guess is that game will change a bit" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/10).
COMING TO L.A.? The L.A. TIMES' Sam Farmer notes the "prospect of the nation's No. 1 sport returning to the No. 2 market is more real than it has been in a decade." Jones said, "I'm very encouraged." If AEG "has its way, a franchise will relocate to L.A. this spring, use the company's Home Depot Center as a training facility, and play in the Coliseum or Rose Bowl until Farmers Field is ready for the 2016 season." The Chargers are "the clubhouse leader." Farmer predicts the Vikings "will get a deal done in Minnesota, and it will be more difficult than people think to extract the Jaguars from Jacksonville or the Bills from Buffalo." Sources said that Chargers Owner the Spanos family and Anschutz are "far apart on how much of the team he should own, and how much he should pay." Anschutz is "looking for a deep discount, and Chargers President Dean Spanos isn't likely to go for that, no matter how dazzling the L.A. stadium might be" (L.A. TIMES, 8/10). In L.A., T.J. Simers reports some say the Chargers "already have an understanding with Leiweke & Co" (L.A. TIMES, 8/10). ESPN Radio 710 L.A. host John Ireland said, "I think the Chargers are coming, and I think they are going to announce that they’re coming at the end of this season. ... If AEG has their way, the Chargers announce that they are coming February, move temporarily to the L.A. Coliseum, play there for three or four years and either 2015 or 2016 move into Farmers Field." ESPN Radio's Mike Golic: "This is a complete situation where teams have the leverage. ... They can hold cities hostage as much as they want because of the popularity of the sport” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 8/10). An NFL exec said yesterday, "What that vote did, is make it less about Los Angeles trying to secure a team to now a race among teams competing to be in that market. ... It will happen pretty quickly." The exec added, "When you think about how much more money you can generate for your sponsorships and your suites and club seats and sponsorship packages, they are quadruple in that market compared to smaller markets" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/10).
STILL NEED RIGHT SITUATION: SportsCorp President Marc Ganis cautioned if the situation "is not managed well, there is going to be a real problem." Ganis: "You have to get the right team, the right economics, the right marketing plan and, if not, history has shown that even the great initial elevation will not be enough to save the situation." In L.A., Bill Plaschke reports the NFL is "quietly worried that the eternal opportunists known as the Raiders are circling and swooping and waiting for a chance to dive in and make a mess of everything." But Plaschke writes, "Hey, Oakland Raiders. ... Don't come back. Don't even think about coming back" (L.A. TIMES, 8/10).
FACING THE COMPETITION: Majestic Realty VP John Semcken yesterday released a statement touting his firm's competing project at Grand Crossing, 20 miles east of downtown L.A.: “Our stadium proposal will generate more money, jobs and long-term success for the region and the NFL. We are more active than ever and are currently working with the league, owners and teams to bring a franchise back to Los Angeles” (THE DAILY). Leiweke said that AEG "would drop its plans for a stadium if Majestic is able to land an NFL team first." But he added that he hoped Majestic Chair & CEO Ed Roski, a partner with AEG on Staples Center, "would join forces downtown." Leiweke: “I would hope if Ed wants to bring the NFL back to LA he’d get behind our project" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 8/10). In California, Jim Alexander writes, "AEG's parade of announcements over the past few months hasn't actually brought the NFL any closer to LA, but it has achieved one thing. It has sucked all of the oxygen out of the competing City of Industry stadium project. Anyone heard from Ed Roski lately?" (Riverside PRESS-ENTERPRISE, 8/10).
The Bears and Soldier Field management company SMG "have formed a 'field committee' to prevent another debacle like last week’s cancellation of an open practice for fans because the sod hadn’t been watered sufficiently," according to John Byrne of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. SMG Dir of Sponsorship & Media Luca Serra said that the field committee "first met over the weekend to make sure the right steps were being taken to get the grass ready for the Bears’ first preseason game Saturday." Serra said that Soldier Field GM Tim LeFevour, Bears Senior Dir of Administration John Bostrom, groundskeepers and SMG "will continue consulting with each other going forward to make sure both sides are satisfied with the care of the grass." The development comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday said that he "expects the Chicago Park District to make sure the grass at the lakefront facility is up to snuff" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/10). Emanuel said that he "has directed the Chicago Park District to find a permanent solution to the decades-long turf battle at Soldier Field." Asked who he holds responsible for the last-minute cancellation of Friday's Family Fest, Emanuel said, "I’m not looking right now (for someone to) blame. I’m looking (for) a solution. Different people and different parties have different ideas on this. I expect them to come up with a solution." In Chicago, Fran Spielman notes the "question now is whether Emanuel is prepared to pressure the Bears to make the switch to artificial turf on grounds that it would be less costly for Chicago taxpayers" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 8/10). The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh said, "It’s a city-owned building and I know (Emanuel's) got a lot on his plate -- a lot more important things than football -- but the Bears are more than football to a lot of people in this city." Haugh: "The Chicago Park District has a responsibility to have a safe playing surface for the Bears and the teams that play the Bears. Friday night was a joke. It can't be joke on Saturday. It can't be a joke going forward" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 8/10).
TURF IS GREENER? Bears Chair George McCaskey said that "it's an organizational decision to play on grass." He said that the "chief concern is player safety, noting that there aren’t any studies that support that grass isn’t the safest playing surface for football." In Chicago, Sean Jensen notes the Bears are "among a diminishing number of northern-climate football teams -- pro or college -- to still play on grass," which typically "becomes a challenge to grow by mid-October." Jensen writes, "They need FieldTurf. A change will benefit everyone involved, from the Bears to the Chicago Park District to the taxpayers, who ultimately foot the bill" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 8/10). Also in Chicago, David Haugh writes, "Until the Bears can feel more confident in their landlord, the responsible choice for them avoids unnecessary risk." That means sitting RB Matt Forte for Saturday's preseason game, and "perhaps other important offensive skilled-position veterans familiar with the offense." The game "won't mean a thing unless somebody gets injured." Perhaps by their "last home exhibition Sept. 1 everything, including the sod, will be more settled" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/10).
Univ. Of Mississippi officials yesterday announced a $150M capital campaign “that will help finance a new basketball arena and significantly enhance Vaught-Hemingway Stadium,” according to a front-page piece by Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson CLARION-LEDGER. Ole Miss officials said that the university, which “has an athletic department budget of $47.58 million, plans to generate $100 million from increasing the cost of premium seating in both venues, as well as adding ‘capital gift agreements’ to the purchase of those seats.” Capital gift agreements “are similar to the personal seat licenses.” Those signing up for a CGA “will have three years to pay it off, which will coincide with a planned launch date of the 2015-16 season for a basketball arena to replace Tad Smith Coliseum.” Also part of phase one of the project “will be additional premium seating at Vaught-Hemingway, the school's football stadium, and more concessions stands and restrooms along the concourse.” Phase two “will bowl in the north endzone of Vaught-Hemingway and add a large plasma screen overlooking” The Grove tailgating area outside the stadium. Seating “will rise from 60,580 to more than 70,000 when the plan is completed.” Officials “did not say when that phase would start.” The school will garner $50M “through more traditional revenue sources like philanthropic gifts and corporate naming rights.” Planning for the project “has been underway for more than a year, but replacing Tad Smith Coliseum has become a priority.” The facility, built in '66, has been “renovated over time, but a February women's basketball game against Tennessee had to be cut short when a storm blew water through vents at the top of the building.” Architects “have not been hired to actually design the facilities, and the timeline will play a role in final cost.” Tad Smith Coliseum seats 9,061. The proposed new arena “will be in the range of 10,000” (Jackson CLARION-LEDGER, 8/10). Ole Miss Senior Associate AD & UMAA Foundation Exec Dir Danny White said that the school “took in about $14 million in premium seat revenue last year.” Mailings to donors “will detail the specific amounts that the capital gift agreements would cost.” White said that the university “is prepared to borrow money to finance the construction if the donations are there to service the debt” (Memphis COMMERICAL APPEAL, 8/10). Aecom worked with Ole Miss to determine the cost for constructing a new arena (THE DAILY).
ON THE AGENDA: In Nashville, Jeff Lockridge notes “replacing the jumbo-screen video boards in Memorial Gym and Vanderbilt Stadium is among the next athletic improvement projects on Vanderbilt’s agenda,” and basketball “will get preference over football.” Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams said that “fundraising is needed for the projects, and a time line depends on when the money is generated.” He is “hopeful that Memorial Gym’s four-sided video screen and scoreboard hanging over center court can be replaced during the upcoming season.” Williams also “would like to see the football video screen” in the enclosed south end zone of Vanderbilt Stadium “replaced in time for the 2012 season -- but he’s not making promises” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 8/10).
In New Orleans, Mike Triplett reports the Saints are "moving their practice sessions west to Oxnard, Calif., from August 21-28." The Saints were scheduled "to break out of the training-camp routine on" Aug. 18. But coach Sean Payton said that the "main reason for the move is that he wanted to extend camp by an extra week during this offseason, which was abbreviated by the NFL lockout, for the extra teaching time and the camaraderie." Triplett notes planning for "an extra week at home in Metairie would have created a logistical problem with hotel rooms, but Payton liked the idea of leaving town, regardless" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 8/10).
STARTING FRESH: On Long Island, Randi Marshall reports a "new local task force organized by a major real estate group came together Tuesday to generate ideas for developing the land around Nassau Coliseum." Spiegel Associates CEO Alan Eidler, whose real estate company is hosting the meeting, said the group, called Clean Start, will produce a "road map that's workable, that's practical (and) that's innovative." Eidler indicated that the task force by Labor Day hopes to "present ideas to help guide the county in crafting its request for proposals for the site" (NEWSDAY, 8/10).
IT TAKES A VILLAGE: In St. Louis, Tim Logan reports Stifel Financial Corp. yesterday said that it "plans to buy its downtown office building and stay there." The announcement means Stifel "won't be moving a few blocks south, to the Cardinals' Ballpark Village, leaving the team stuck once more with no tentpole tenant for [its] long-stalled project." Logan notes the decision "likely means an even smaller, more-delayed Ballpark Village." Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said that the team plans to "move ahead with the retail -- likely some sort of museum and entertainment venues -- and a small amount of office space" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/10).
'CAT HOUSE: In Arizona, Rob O'Dell reports the Univ. of Arizona baseball team "could soon have a new home at Hi Corbett Field at Reid Park." Under the proposed lease agreement, the school "would pay $250,000 a year to become the major tenant for five years, with a five-year extension at the school's option." The rent "would be subject to a 3 percent annual inflation escalator." UA would "make substantial improvements" to the property, and AD Greg Byrne has indicated that the school "could put as much as $5 million into the stadium, although there is no dollar figure" included in the Tucson City Council's letter of intent authorizing the agreement. City attorney Mike Rankin said that UA would have to agree "if a major-league team wants to come to Hi Corbett for spring training" (AZSTARNET.com, 8/10).