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OC Register: New Anaheim council means fresh look at Angel Stadium’s future


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As baseball fans speculate about which billionaire or private equity firm might buy the Angels, potential buyers are likely trying to suss out what Anaheim’s new City Council would be like as a landlord.

The team has leased the city-owned stadium since it was built in 1966. A deal to sell the 152-acre stadium property to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s business partnership fell apart in May, shortly after the former mayor – who spearheaded the deal – resigned amid corruption allegations; he’s never been charged and has maintained he committed no wrongdoing.

In last month’s election, voters picked a new mayor and put new people in three of the six council seats (two incumbents weren’t up for election; a fourth vacant seat will be filled by appointment, likely in January) – and how this new team will play together remains to be seen.

And several other wild cards are in the mix:

• Will Moreno undertake any of the stadium’s significant maintenance needs before the team is sold, or would the new owner get to decide whether to fix up the old ballpark or build a new one?

• Will the new council want to sell or keep leasing the property?

• And will city leaders avoid the mistakes and criticisms that persistently dogged the planned sale to Moreno?

“The ballpark facility is not state-of-the-art compared to where things are (today) and needs some attention, there has been a political quagmire that has gone on and the bad PR that has gone on,” including the Angels’ losing record and a former team employee’s conviction for providing drugs that caused a pitcher’s 2019 overdose death, said Maury Brown, a sports business reporter for Forbes.

“All of those things, I think, makes it an intriguing purchase for anyone looking at it.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday, Dec. 9 that the Angels hope to “have the sale resolved before Opening Day,” and prospective bidders are looking over the team’s financials, but it’s unknown if that’s a realistic timeline.

Questions of cost

Maintenance and improvements to the 56-year-old stadium are one big question mark hanging over any potential sale.

A 2013 estimate pegged stadium upgrades around $150 million, and “(with) inflation alone, you’re likely looking at double that today,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said.

In the past 20 years, about $54.5 million has been spent on the facility, mostly by Angels Baseball, which city leaders would argue is as it should be – aside from an annual city payment to a maintenance fund, the lease holds the tenant responsible for stadium upkeep, City Attorney Rob Fabela told the council at its Oct. 25 meeting.

Former Councilmember Jose Moreno (no relation to the team’s owner), who left the dais this week, is among those who argue the team hasn’t lived up to its maintenance obligations; the lease sets a standard of “at least equal to first-class professional baseball stadiums.”

Angels Baseball disputes that suggestion. Spokeswoman Marie Garvey said in a statement, “Under current ownership, we have spent over seven times more than what the lease requires in capital improvements and maintenance.”

Councilmember Moreno mused that the team owner might be inspired to make a few stadium fixes to boost the Angels’ sale price – but if he doesn’t, the needed upgrades would fall to the new owner, who will inherit a lease that runs through 2029.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when the city enforces the terms of the lease, because it’s potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake,” said Tom Daly, a former state Assemblymember who was Anaheim mayor from 1992 to 2002.

That pending maintenance could factor into the team’s sale price – unless the new owner wants to build a new ballpark.

Unlike beloved Dodger Stadium and storied Wrigley Field (both are older and have had major renovations within the past decade), Angel Stadium is “just historic due to its age,” said Brown, the Forbes writer.

“I believe that if opportunity provides for a completely new ballpark, (the Angels’ new owner) would want it.”

One way to create that opportunity is through covering the sprawling parking lots around the stadium with restaurants, shops, hotels, offices and apartments. It’s what Arte Moreno planned to do once he closed escrow for the property, and Brown thinks any potential buyer of the team would be looking for a development deal with Anaheim.

‘Reset button’

It will be up to the new mayor and council to decide Angel Stadium’s future, and they see the sale of the baseball team as “a tremendous opportunity to hit the reset button,” as Mayor Ashleigh Aitken put it.

The new council is itself a fresh start, after repeated criticisms that the city-commissioned stadium appraisal was low-balled, that key decisions regarding the sale were made out of the public eye, and that the former mayor was pushing a deal that benefitted the team’s owner at the expense of Anaheim residents.

The prior council voted to seek bids from a consultant to do a full assessment of the stadium’s condition and what fixes it needs – Lyster said proposals are expected in the first half of 2023 and the council could see a final report before the end of the year.

New District 3 Councilmember Natalie Rubalcava said the $320 million sale price agreed to by the prior council was “undervalued,” and she’d like to see an independent third party with knowledge of commercial real estate advise the council on the merits of negotiating a new lease versus selling the stadium.

Natalie Meeks, the new District 6 councilmember, said she’d like to see a new appraisal, or at least an update to the old one, which was completed in 2019.

Once the Angels’ new owner is in place, Meeks said, she’d like to hear about their priorities. One of hers is keeping the team local. (The now-dead deal included a commitment to play in Angel Stadium through at least 2050, plus extensions of up to 25 more years.)

“I think the land needs to be tied to the team for a long period of time. I would hate to sell that land and then have the owner move the team and then develop it,” Meeks said.

While campaigning for her council seat, she said, “everybody that I talked to, they want the Angels to stay – it’s part of Anaheim and who we are.”

What’s best?

While they have yet to chart the stadium’s future course, the new members of council will have two guiding lights: transparency and crafting a fair deal for one of the city’s biggest assets that will benefit everyone in Anaheim.

“My focus will always be what is in the best interests of the residents, and that to me means that all possibilities are on the table and I would like to thoughtfully look at any opportunity that is brought forward,” Aitken said.

New District 2 Councilmember Carlos Leon said he’s not yet sure what the best deal would look like, but “whatever process we end up deciding should be truly transparent.”

Former Councilmember Moreno, whose early concerns about the sale to the team’s owner went unheeded, is encouraged by what the newly elected city leaders have said – and he thinks a lopsided or poorly crafted deal would be harder to sell today.

“I’m hopeful about that, that there’s a lot more eyes (on the issue) from the state level, from the local level, from the residents, from the media,” he said.

Former Mayor Tom Tait, who held the post from 2010 to 2018, agreed, though he phrased it more colorfully.

“It’s harder to get a crappy deal through if it’s public,” he said. “The key to this thing is transparency and sunlight.”

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