Long Beach appears to have struck out in attempt to lure Angels from Anaheim

As the Los Angeles Angels head toward an end-of-the-year deadline to decide whether to leave the city of Anaheim, the prospect of the team landing in Long Beach has dimmed after team officials said the city was “on the back burner.”

After the Long Beach Post reported in February that the team and Long Beach were in early talks to bring the team to a proposed Downtown waterfront ballpark, the Angels have dealt almost exclusively with Anaheim.

The team currently plays in the fourth oldest Major League Baseball stadium and is seeking to replace the structure that opened in 1966 with a modern stadium that has housing, entertainment and restaurants integrated around it.

Anaheim’s 155-acre plot on which Angel Stadium sits has always provided more room for development but Long Beach attempted to coax the team into building its future home on a 13-acre plot along the Downtown waterfront locally referred to as the “elephant lot.”

Since February, the Anaheim City Council has had six meetings in which topics related to the team and its future stadium were either discussed publicly or behind closed doors as the two sides have tried to hammer out a long-term lease agreement to keep the Angels in Anaheim.

However, the team has only had one posted meeting with Long Beach officials, a March closed session meeting with an entity representing the team in real estate discussions. Since then, there have been no closed door or public discussions of a stadium deal by the Long Beach City Council.

Long Beach and Anaheim both set to discuss deals for Angels on Tuesday

This week, a team representative told the Los Angeles Times that Long Beach was on the “back burner” and that the Angels are “100% focused on Anaheim.”

A representative from the team could not be reached for comment on the negotiations with Anaheim.

Long Beach spokesman Kevin Lee said that the city has been looking into developing the Downtown waterfront for a long time and that discussions of its future are ongoing.

Lee said that while the city did engage in early discussions with the team, it hasn’t had “any recent discussions with the Angels regarding this.” He couldn’t provide specifics on the last time discussions took place but said it had been months since the two sides talked.

“We will continue to look at our Downtown waterfront and what may be possible there as we move forward,” Lee said.

The Angels opt-out deadline of Dec. 31, and any decision made before that, should shed light on what the team intends to do regarding a future stadium. However, the suspense over what city a new or renovated stadium will be located in seems to have fizzled.

If the team chooses to do nothing before the end of the year the contract would simply be extended until 2029, giving the team and the city even more time to hammer out a long-term plan for a stadium and entertainment district surrounding it.

The existing lease also has three, three-year extensions built into it that if exercised could keep the team in Anaheim through 2038. However, if the team does choose to opt out, or enters into the extension through 2029 but breaks the lease with Anaheim, it could be on the hook for the remaining balance of the city’s financial investments into the stadium in the late 1990s.

Mike Lyster, a spokesperson for the city of Anaheim, said that figure currently stands at about $8 million and that figure will continue to go down every year that baseball is played in Anaheim.

Lyster couldn’t provide a date for when the city expects the Angels to come back with a proposal but said the two sides have been in regular contact even though they’ve yet to sit down and have formal talks on a proposal.

“We look forward to doing that soon,” Lyster said. “We’re all interested in sitting down and figuring out our future.”

So what will become of the elephant lot?

In September, Mayor Robert Garcia hosted an annual event discussing the state of development in the city and said that the level of interest in the 13-acre site has been impressive and that the resulting development could wind up in “a home run or a slam dunk.”

Halos—or hoops? Mayor hints at interest in 13-acre Downtown lot

The latter comment set off some mild speculation that the city could pursue a basketball franchise to build an arena on the elephant lot. The chances that it could be an NBA team were quashed even before Garcia’s slam dunk comment as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had stated in May that the league was “not in expansion mode.”

The hopes of luring another California team to Long Beach also seems slim.

The Sacramento Kings opened a new arena in 2016 and the Golden State Warriors just moved into their new digs this year. The Los Angeles Clippers are in the process of building a new arena in Inglewood and the Los Angeles Lakers are likely to stay in Los Angeles.

The WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks could be in play, but the mayor’s comments were not clear on whether the city was pursuing a sports franchise, other businesses or housing to fill in the elephant lot. Since then, the city has made moves that indicate it may be moving away from a stadium altogether.

Last week the City Council initiated a visioning effort for the Downtown shoreline district, which includes the elephant lot.

The visioning plan will last approximately 18 months as the city will work with a consultant and stakeholders as a plan for the area is outlined. The resulting plan is expected to be ready for implementation at the close of the 2028 Summer Olympic games, during which events will be hosted at the elephant lot.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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