SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name

LA Coliseum project one of four plans to lure back NFL

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which has hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, two Super Bowls and the Dodgers’ 1959 World Series, is one of this city’s most internationally recognized landmarks.

But the structure, built in 1923, is a big open bowl with just one level that cannot hold luxury boxes.

The Raiders, who left the Coliseum and Los Angeles without professional football in 1994, were rarely able to sell out the Coliseum’s 93,000 seats, which resulted in blacked-out home games in the second-biggest television market in the country.

City officials have been working for years to bring a NFL team back, but league officials have said they don’t want another team that can’t fill seats, which again would result in television blackouts under NFL rules.

In order to make the Coliseum competitive with other modern stadiums and still preserve the history of the structure, architects have proposed a novel plan – to build a new stadium within the walls of the Coliseum.

HOK Sport of Kansas City has created a concept design for Los Angeles Kings owners Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz, who are working with the city to lure the NFL back to Los Angeles.

"We’re going to take the Coliseum, which is a 93,000-seat structure, and replace it with a 66,000-seat stadium," said John Semcken, vice president of Roski’s company, Majestic Realty, and one of the executives leading the project. "We can demolish the old structure all the way out to the exterior wall and we can build a new one."

By keeping the historic structure in place, the project would be eligible for special tax breaks, Semcken said.

There are a lot of instances in which historic structures have been "scooped out" and rebuilt, Semcken said, though he’s not aware of such a precedent for a stadium. The new Coliseum would have all the amenities of a modern stadium, including multi-levels, luxury boxes, club seats and a club lounge.

Still, the Coliseum proposal is only one of four plans for new state-of-the-art stadiums in the Los Angeles area, The others are:

    • A proposal to build a 65,000-seat stadium and possibly a Disneyland-like sports theme park on unused land at the Hollywood Park racetrack in nearby Inglewood. The plan is the only one of the four with an approved environmental impact report, noted John K. McKay, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver who is a lawyer for the project.
    • A plan to build a stadium downtown with an adjacent hotel that would share a wall with the stadium. "What is wonderful about it is that we would use the land effectively and one side of the hotel would overlook the stadium," said Sheldon Ausman, president of South Park Sports, a group of influential business people backing the effort.
    • A proposal has been floated by former Hollywood agent and ex-Disney President Michael Ovitz to build a stadium next to a proposed shopping mall in Carson, a city just south of Los Angeles. The plan involves building the stadium on a portion of land that was a former dumpsite, said Carson City Manager Gil Smith. The Carson City Council recently voted to enter into negotiations with Ovitz.

Ausman and McKay say the big problem with the Coliseum plan is that after almost two years of lobbying, it has still failed to receive the NFL’s support. Team owners have expressed concern about crime in the area surrounding the Coliseum.

"If the NFL was going to award a franchise there [at the Coliseum], they would have done it already," Ausman said.

Semcken and Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the district where the Coliseum is located, contend that the area is safe and that the new Coliseum plan has a lot of support among NFL owners, who must approve any new franchise.

"The NFL likes our plan," Semcken said.

The Coliseum plan has been around since late 1996 but has changed since its inception. The original plan was to remodel the old Coliseum, Semcken said. The NFL prefers a new stadium to a remodeled one, said Roger Goodell, NFL senior vice president of league and football development.

"I think the plans we’ve seen for [the new stadium-within-a-stadium Coliseum project] would qualify" as a new structure, Goodell said.

Meanwhile, Semcken contends there are problems with the other sites that could prevent the NFL from giving them its blessing. For example, the plan proposed by Ausman for downtown Los Angeles involves building on land that is owned by a number of different parties. Assembling that land would take time and money, Semcken said. Furthermore, the blueprint for that site necessitates vacating a major street, Semcken said.

Ausman, a well-connected Los Angeles businessman and a former chairman of the city’s Chamber of commerce, concedes that Hope Street would have to be closed but said the street "is not a major thoroughfare" in the southern part of downtown, where the site ids proposed. He added that the owners of the land where the site has been proposed. He added that the owners of the land where the site has been proposed have expressed interest in selling the land in the past.

Goodell declined to comment about whether the NFL has any preference among the four plans. The league is looking for something that "will capture the enthusiasm and excitement of the LA fans," he said.

The NFL wants its Los Angeles franchise "to attract sell-out crowds and not be blacked out as in the past," Goodell said.

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