Tustin Officials Meet Moreno’s Overture With Skepticism

Angel Stadium

Over the long weekend, Angles owner Arte Moreno tried to ratchet up the pressure on his stadium lease negotiations with Anaheim officials by making it known that he met with Tustin leaders about the possibility of moving his baseball team there.

But Tustin officials, wary of public dollars going toward a stadium, aren't exactly preparing a welcome wagon for Moreno.

“I don’t think in our community that will be acceptable,” Mayor Al Murray said of public subsidies after Tuesday night’s council meeting.

“It could … be more of a leveraging opportunity [for Moreno] than anything else,” he said of the talks.

Councilwoman Rebecca Gomez made clear that if Moreno wants a stadium in Tustin, he shouldn’t look to taxpayers for help.

“My preference is” to not use public subsidies for a stadium, Gomez said.

Other council members said they’re interested in seeing how the talks progress before deciding on subsidies.

Mark Rosentraub, an expert on stadium deals, said tat Moreno is playing a card that teams often play in such negotiations and that in his case it’s a pretty weak card.

“Traditionally the game that teams play is they try to pit metropolitan areas off against one another in order to extract concessions from the cities,” said Rosentraub, an economics professor at the University of Michigan.

“They better come up with more than just a rumor to move to a suburb that has no existing stadium, no existing plan to build a stadium and no obvious council members that are strongly backing a plan,” Rosentraub said.

The Angels' media relations team didn’t return a message seeking comment.

The current framework for a new lease deal in Anaheim calls for Moreno to receive 155 acres of developable city land around the stadium at a price of $1 per year. The city has an appraisal of the land in the works, but estimates of its value range from $30 million to nearly $400 million.

Also, Moreno would also be able to drop “Anaheim” from the team name.

The proposal has met opposition from Mayor Tom Tait and other community members, who call it a massive giveaway of prime city land. Others argue that the framework is needed to keep the Angels in Anaheim.

Amid close media scrutiny of the proposed deal and opposition from the mayor and others, Moreno said negotiations have hit a standstill.

With that backdrop, Moreno met with Tustin officials last week.

It was their only conversation so far, said City Manager Jeffrey Parker, who described it as a “very brief dialogue.”

Moreno expressed frustration at the negotiations with Anaheim, Parker added.

The only viable site in Tustin for a new stadium would be the former Marine Corps air base, known as MCAS Tustin. The former base is now designated for a county park, city park, commercial offices, transit-oriented development and housing, Parker said.

It’s governed by the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan/Reuse Plan, which was first approved in 2003 and has been updated since then.

Adding a stadium would be a significant change, Parker said, but certainly a possibility.

About 500 acres of the area can still be redesignated, Parker said, adding that he plans to sit down and chat with council members about the issue in the next couple of weeks.

How a brand-new stadium would be financed is unclear.

Rosentraub said he hasn’t seen a new Major League Baseball stadium built for less than $600 million or $700 million.

There’s a “huge difference between having a facility already in place and building one from the ground up,” he said.

“You’re not moving unless you have a significant upgrade in your facility and huge amounts of financing from somewhere else.”

For example, a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves currently underway in a suburban county is expected to cost $672 million to build. Taxpayers will foot $300 million of that cost upfront, according to the Associated Press.

At the end of the day, Rosentraub said, Anaheim officials ought be negotiating from a position of strength.

“If you’re Anaheim, you should really have the control here, not the team,” he said. “Those rumors should only work … on really, really bad negotiators.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan economics professor. We regret the error.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/nicholasgerda.

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