The city is talking with the Angels—but not many others

The city’s mammoth data dump on Monday regarding Long Beach’s attempts to lure the Los Angeles Angels to a new stadium in Long Beach wasn’t a pinata full of surprises. That is, unless you’re flabbergasted by our city government’s enthusiasm for clamping down on releasing any solid information regarding the business of building a ballpark on the last vacant parcel of waterfront property in its portfolio.

Ever since the Long Beach Post broke the story in February about the city being engaged in talks with the Angels, the only information that’s come to people not directly involved in the talks has come from the media.

The news, particularly in subsequent stories in the Post and the L.A. Times about the very real possibility of razing the Long Beach Arena to make room for a stadium and its surrounding development, caused some, shall we say, concern among some people who would be directly affected, and not in the good way.

Among the nearly 600 pages of documents we received Monday as a result of a request for public records filed by numerous media outlets was an email to Mayor Robert Garcia from Kelly Lucera, president of the Long Beach Symphony, who was, um, just a little curious about the fate of the venue.

“A bit caught off guard,” she wrote to Garcia on April 4. “I’ve been fielding concerned phone calls from our Classical and POPS subscribers after reading… about the possible demolition of the LB Arena and the City Council’s approved study of the entire performing arts center. Our Board, donors, staff, musicians and patrons would be relieved if I can simply tell them that whatever is planned, I have your assurances that the POPS series (and the Classical Series) will be accommodated in all plans moving forward. During our POPS dinner, you and I briefly discussed the idea that the Queen Mary Island amphitheater concept could be converted to an indoor/outdoor professional theater which would free up the Terrace and Arena land for other use. I hope we can chat soon so that I am up to speed on your vision and related talking points.”

Ah, to be young and so full of hope and unicorny thoughts of a Queen Mary amphitheater someday being built. But maybe it will. I’ve been tragically wrong before.

But let’s get back to the Angels. The city threw $17,000 at the Gensler architecture firm to, among other things, determine if a Major League Baseball stadium along the lines of a Petco Park, an Oracle Park, even a Dodger or Angel Stadium would fit in the lot and, while it turns out they could all fit, most would require cutting into the Arena’s footprint and, let’s face it, once the foot goes, the body will follow.

The arena is also the most potent tool in Convention & Visitors Bureau boss Steve Goodling’s toolbox. It’s basically his Swiss Army screwdriver. Following the stories in the Post and the Times about the possibility of the city losing the convention business’ linchpin building, Goodling wrote an email to his staff:

“Dear all, there was a story in the LA Times yesterday, and another follow-up in the LB Post today. In short, the City realizes the value of the arena (especially as the Pacific Ballroom), and the business it generates. So, if the arena is used for the footprint of the stadium, it’s known that something must be created for the (Long Beach Convention Center) to continue to draw and attract conventions to the center overall.”

In other words, if the city is intent on trading its highly profitable convention business by bringing in a prestigious baseball franchise, it’s going to need to do something to mitigate the loss of the arena. The bills keep adding up, but it’s nothing an 18% sales tax can’t fix.

Then, there’s the matter of the Grand Prix—how many elephants can we fit in this room?

Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix—again, kinda curious—also read about the possibility of losing the arena and its expansive parking lot, both of which are integral parts of race weekend. He dashed off an email to City Manager Pat West and Assistant City Manager Tom Modica on April 24, asking to be clued in:

“Guys, now that we are just about finished with cleaning up after the ‘racing circus’ has left town, I would welcome a briefing on the situation regarding the potential relocation of Angel Stadium to Long Beach and also discuss the impact on the future of the Grand Prix,” wrote Michaelian. “I am available next Monday afternoon or Wednesday or Thursday morning to get together. Let me know what works for you.”

I contacted Michaelian on Tuesday to find out if he ever got that briefing. “Yes, I did,” he said. “I would describe it as a brief meeting. It was the same stuff they sent out in press statements: ‘Things are very preliminary, no details.’ They assured me when the time came to sort things out I would be involved. But at this point I don’t know any more than you do.”

That’s not encouraging, because after going through almost 600 pages of documents regarding (however tangentially) the city’s talks with the Angels, I still don’t know very much.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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