Angels and Anaheim to Hammer Out New Stadium Deal Before New Year

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim officials are slated to sit down with Anaheim executives Friday to officially begin negotiations on a new stadium deal, despite having only three regularly scheduled City Council meetings left this year.

The deadline to make a new stadium deal is Dec. 31, the last day the Angels can opt out of the current lease. Otherwise they have to stay in Anaheim until 2029.

City spokesman Mike Lyster said, in an email, the Angels and Anaheim “have spent much of this year assembling teams, gathering information and looking at options ahead of a meeting.”

He also said there’s enough time to carve out a deal.

“Our goal is an agreement that is good for Anaheim, our residents and neighborhoods, and there is ample time for that to happen,” Lyster wrote.

But Councilman Jose Moreno previously told Voice of OC, “I’m confident a deal can be done by December 31. But I have no confidence in that it will be a great deal.

Author and stadium deal reporter Neil deMause said he’s seen impending deadlines, like the one Anaheim is facing, play out across the country.

“When Joanna Cagan and I first came up with the playbook for stadium deals back 20 years ago, one of the items in it was a two-minute warning. Which is declare a deadline and hope everyone scurries around it madly, whether the deadline is real or not,” said deMause, author of Field of Schemes, a book about stadium deals. He also runs a website by the same name.

While it’s unclear if the Dec. 31 deadline is a negotiation tactic, it’s a move by the Angels and Anaheim to avoid public scrutiny of the deal, deMause said.

“I don’t know if it’s a negotiation tactic to set the deadline, but it’s almost certainly a PR move by both (Angels owner Arte) Moreno and the Council to stall all the negotiations until the last possible moment, because that means there’ll be the least amount of time for public oversight. And that’s what both parties can agree is to their benefit,” deMause said. 

Wally Courtney, an Anaheim real estate agent for the last 36 years, also said the delay in negotiations could be a way to ram through a bad deal. He’s done commercial real estate deals with Anaheim and other cities, but not a stadium deal. 

“I hope that’s not the case, but it looks to me that might be the case,” Courtney said.

He said while its possible to negotiate a good deal within six weeks, “unfortunately, knowing the parties involved, I would say it’s either unlikely or that the parties have already had some kind of pre-arrangement a long time ago and now they’re going to try, at the last minute, to shove it down the residents’ throat.”  

Wally said the current negotiation reminds him of the 2013 negotiations, when the City Council authorized a memorandum of understanding to lease the 155-acre stadium land to the Angels at $1 a year for 66 years.

deMause likened Anaheim’s situation to the Miami Marlins’ stadium negotiations over 10 years ago.

“It reminds me of when the Marlins, every year, used to declare this is the last year” to negotiate a new deal, he said. “This went on for 5, 7 years in a row.”  

The city of Miami and Miami-Dade County leaders put local Florida taxpayers on the hook for $500 million to build a new stadium for the Marlins. The stadium bonds will end up costing the taxpayers more than $2 billion after they’re finally paid off.

The New York Times called it “one of the more lopsided deals in professional sports.”

Baseball stadium deals often are negotiated under the idea that the surrounding land will be developed and the resulting sales and hotel taxes will put money into city coffers, according to various experts Voice of OC has interviewed over the past seven months.

Yet that’s not the case in Miami, where the Marlins keep nearly all the revenue from publicly-financed stadium.

 “In Miami, few businesses have opened near Marlins Park, which is surrounded on four sides by parking garages that, in effect, create a fortress around the stadium. In fact, the only people near the stadium who seem to have benefited are the homeowners who charge $15 per car to park in their driveways, and even they are disappointed,” wrote Ken Belson, sports reporter for the NY Times.

While some cities — like Chicago — have benefitted from developments surrounding baseball stadiums, Angel Stadium is still surrounded by a parking lot.

The Angels could be looking to develop the land because it hired development consultants earlier this year, but no specific plans have been publicly discussed.

And an exact wishlist of what the city would like to see — the negotiation framework — hasn’t been publicly discussed by Councilmembers, outside of Mayor Harry Sidhu and Moreno agreeing the team should pay fair market-value for rent or a land sale at an August Council meeting. Some Councilmembers also said they were against any taxpayer subsidies during that meeting. 

Sidhu hasn’t returned any phone calls or emails about the stadium negotiations. And most of the City Council hasn’t either, except for Moreno and Councilwoman Denise Barnes.

Moreno and Sidhu are at odds at nearly every meeting and Sidhu, backed by the Council majority, shot down Moreno’s attempts to release the stadium appraisal and institute a 30-day public review period for any final proposal.

 “Unfortunately negotiating behind closed doors is popular for a reason. It is that the people behind closed doors get to do whatever they think is right and not have anyone looking over their shoulder,” deMause said.

 He said the Angels negotiations reminded him of Georgia’s Cobb County officials, who oversee the Atlanta Braves stadium, actively skirting public disclosure law during negotiations with the Braves. The deal eventually cost taxpayers $400 million to help build a new stadium in 2017 and Cobb county taxpayers lost at least $5.8 million last year on Suntrust Park, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“This is also very similar with the Braves stadium where Cobb County commissions kept it under wraps for months,” Demause said. “They did it by virtue of things like making sure that enough members were standing in the hallway that it didn’t qualify as a meeting — therefore, they didn’t have to notify the public about it.”

“Anaheim is in a position where they can do that because its very public,” deMause said. “So people know that there’s talks going on, but it seems like everyone involved is pretending like there’s nothing to see behind the curtain.”

But city officials and Angels representatives maintain no meetings have occurred ahead of Friday’s meeting.

Although Anaheim and the ball club haven’t officially met, the city’s negotiation team has met with itself twice, including the consultants hired by the city. The negotiating team consists of Sidhu, City Manager Chris Zapata and City Attorney Rob Fabela. The team, without Sidhu, has met with itself, the consultants and other city support staff four times, according to Lyster.

 One of the city’s consultants, Dan Barrett, helped Seattle negotiate a new stadium deal with the Mariners last year. But that deal ended up costing taxpayers $135 million, on top of the $375 million public subsidy that initially helped build the stadium in 1999, according to the Seattle Times.

Ultimately, Seattle taxpayers are on the hook for over half a billion in stadium subsidies and have only received $4.5 million in revenue from the team under the old lease, according to the Seattle Times.

According to a May 2018 King County news release, “In 20 years, Safeco Field is expected to generate $46 million to local jurisdictions.” King County oversees the stadium.

 Meanwhile, deMause said the Dec. 31 deadline isn’t one sided and the City Council should call the Angels cards because there’s no other stadium in the area for them to play in.

“The deadline for the Angels deal for Anaheim is just as much a deadline for (team owner) Arte Moreno. Because he’s the one that either has to have his bluff called … or stay under the current lease until 2029,” deMause said.

Courtney said he has little faith in the negotiations as the deadline gets closer.

“I guess an optimist would say the Angels are going to stay, the Angels are going to buy the property at the appraised value” or pay fair rent, Courtney said. “If that could happen in the next month and a half, that’s great. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s in the works. Because if it was in the works, they could have already done that months ago.” 

He also lamented the lack of City Council transparency on negotiations. 

“When a city council member tries to get the council to discuss the stadium and the mayor tables the motion, that certainly is not what I call open and fair public negotiations. Taxpayers have a right to know — at least an idea of what’s going on. Or if nothing else, explain why they haven’t done anything ion 10 months,” Courtney said.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.