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Monday, May 23, 2022

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Local business leaders are lining up for a shot to bring a Major League Soccer team to the Valley. But much like when a European soccer powerhouse comes stateside to take on the hometown favorite, the odds are stacked against them. The Valley Industry & Commerce Association is working to gather support for the effort, but there are a number of significant challenges, including locations for a stadium and the low profile of the Valley. The Sherman Oaks group is specifically focused on Chivas USA, which was established by the league 10 years ago as the American outpost of a popular Mexican club. But the team never really caught on. Now, Chivas is on the block, with MLS looking to rename and rebrand the club under new ownership. And with more than 40 percent of the Valley’s 1.8 million residents Latino, and several stadium locations in mind, the coalition sees an economic opportunity in the failed franchise. “It is certainly an uphill battle,” acknowledged VICA President Stuart Waldman. “One of the problems is that there’s a thought that MLS teams should be in downtown areas. But the Valley isn’t Frisco, Texas. We’ve got to change the thought process of people.” The league has a number of requirements for the new owner. The buyer must keep the team in the L.A. area and have local management. MLS also is mandating the owners build a new, soccer-specific stadium for the team, ending its tenancy at the StubHub Center in Carson, where the Los Angeles Galaxy has attracted tens of thousands for years to see stars such as David Beckham and Landon Donovan. VICA has a number of sites in mind for the stadium, including the old Rocketdyne facility on Canoga Avenue and Victory Boulevard in Warner Center, Cal State Northridge and Valley Plaza in North Hollywood. Chivas has struggled in recent years, suffering from declining attendance and subpar performance. And earlier this year, the league bought the team from Jorge Vergara, who owns the popular Chivas de Guadalajara club in Mexico. Financial details of the deal were never released. Forbes valued Chivas last year at $64 million, the lowest dollar figure in the league. Nelson Rodriguez, a longtime MLS executive that was appointed president of Chivas after the league took over, said the league is in the “second phase” of selling the team, which includes negotiations with the final remaining parties vying for the team. Rodriguez said he was unaware of the exact number of contending suitors, but that it was “multiple,” and that the deal isn’t too far away. “It has been my opinion that the sale of the team will occur prior to the end of the league season. Things are tracking well. We’re optimistic that we’ll have a new ownership group soon and turn our attention to the future,” said Rodriguez, who added he wasn’t familiar with the VICA effort but believes there are multiple locations in the L.A. area where the team could thrive. “With our own stadium somewhere away from StubHub, we will stand the opportunity to become the dominant player in the market,” Rodriguez added. Jeff Marks, managing director of Santa Monica sports advisory firm Premier Partnerships, which has deep connections to the league, said the team is a hot commodity. Marks said his firm is not working on this particular transaction, but said there isn’t any shortage of interest in the franchise, estimating the deal at between $75 million and $125 million. “There aren’t a lot of trophy franchises available in a big market like L.A. There are a lot of people that have been interested, and I think something should happen in the near future,” he said. “In a way, you’re buying something even more valuable, since it’s not labeled. I think you’re looking at one of the largest MLS deals in history.” League officials did not respond to numerous calls and emails seeking comment. Stadium options Earlier this summer, VICA formed the San Fernando Valley Soccer Coalition, comprised of some community members and VICA members. The group is attending MLS games to hand out materials to try and garner support for a team in the Valley, highlighting the financial stability of its residents and strong demographics. In addition, the group is active on social media trying to drum up attention, including a Facebook page that now has about 180 followers. One potential hurdle for the San Fernando Valley is space, given a lack of abundant vacant land. Perhaps the most likely location could be Valley Plaza, a dilapidated retail and office center on the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood. Parts of the roughly 30-acre center and surrounding land date back to the early 1950s, and much of the center is owned by iStar Financial Inc. in New York, which foreclosed on it after a previous plan to redevelop the corner into a mixed-use condominium complex fizzled out a few years back. Most of the corner is vacant store fronts, though there is still a six-screen Regency Theatres that sells tickets for $3. “That center is definitely blight on the Valley and a stadium would be an instant upgrade,” Waldman said. Another site VICA is eying is the 47-acre Rocketdyne lot in Warner Center. But that may be far-fetched. United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn. sold rocket-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to GenCorp. of Sacramento for $550 million last year, retaining the land for plans to convert it into a mix of residential, office, retail and hotel space. Boston Global Investors has been charged with designing the project, which is estimated to cost $3 billion, and is in the early stages of the proposal process. “We’ve never even heard about it. We’re moving forward with the mixed-use proposal for the site,” said Steve Sugerman, president at Sugerman Communications Group Inc. in Santa Monica, which represents United Technologies. And then there’s CSUN. VICA isn’t in talks with the school, but believes there is ample space on the North Campus, which runs from Lassen Street north to Devonshire Street. It currently contains the old football stadium, a photovoltaic installation, parking and the University Village Apartments, where some married students live. The area is about 65 acres, though insulin pump developer Medtronic Inc. occupies about 35 percent of that. Carmen Chandler, spokeswoman for the school, said she also has heard nothing about the plans. “We never say no to anyone who wants to talk to us, but let’s get approached first,” said Chandler, adding that the idea made sense. “We’re centrally located and the Valley could certainly support a team and provide an audience.” And even if an owner could agree to buy land in the Valley, there would be the classic development hurdle – residents. The project would have to go through the same environmental impact report process any new development goes through. And with the pushback an apartment building can garner, a stadium would certainly have its challenges. In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time someone sought to build a stadium in the San Fernando Valley. In 2006, developer Mark Steele and his Valley Sports Authority LLC were looking to build a 10,000-seat arena in Warner Center, which would have catered to sports and concerts. The $100 million Oasis project had several starts and stops, but vanished quietly. It too was eying the Rocketdyne lot. “We probably had three or four meetings and brought it public, but there was substantial resistance from the community,” said Scott Silverstein, chair of the Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council, adding that he had not heard anything about VICA’s effort. “I would love to have a facility that’s closer, but it is such a significant project, and would really have to be looked at closely by the community. It would be a really hot button.” Waldman said the Valley is often hindered by what he called “citizens against virtually anything.” “You always have people who fight things. But that’s the nature of the city we’re in,” he said. “Something like this would be great for the city, and all the areas we’re looking at would be near transportation.” Growing sport Odds are that the team, under its new branding, will still be at StubHub in Carson next season. However, Rodriguez from Chivas said he has high hopes for the following season. “My hope is that in 2016, this club has its own stadium,” he said. “But I hope next year we are in different offices and a different training site.” As far as where he thinks the team could go, he said it will be up to new ownership. “There’s a great soccer presence throughout Southern California. We have to wait for the new ownership. There could be scenarios where ownership could already own land in Southern California, too,” he said. Land ownership and stadium construction could play a big part in the future of the Chivas franchise, as several other MLS teams are grappling with these issues. Former L.A. Galaxy and British soccer superstar David Beckham has yet to figure out a stadium for his expansion team in Miami, while a new team in New York will play at Yankee Stadium, which will require the pitcher’s mound to be removed and rebuilt as many as 20 times a season. In Atlanta, owner of the National Football League’s Falcons Arthur Blank was awarded a new MLS team, but will have it play in the new $1.2 billion stadium being built for his football team, which is being constructed in a manner to make transitioning easier. In the case of Chivas, first and foremost the league has to find the right buyer. Waldman said his group’s campaign is two-pronged. First, they are contacting potential buyers as they hear about them. The group said it has spoken to a few “interested parties,” but would not offer specifics. He also said that once MLS settles on a new owner, the group will contact the buyer to try and convince them to locate in the Valley. There have been a number of reports in the last six months about who may be interested in picking up the club and taking on the rebranding, including Beckham and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who owns land in Inglewood many have postulated could house a football stadium. Nothing has made it past the rumor phase. Marks, the consultant, who has several MLS clients, including Blank in Atlanta and the Chicago Fire, said even though demand in the Valley may be high, it will be a challenge to get a team located here. Instead, Marks said downtown would make more sense for a stadium, as it would be more attractive to popular international teams like Manchester United or Barcelona to play exhibitions, though he conceded the Valley isn’t out of the question. “The Valley just doesn’t have the same shine,” he said. “But at the end of the day, land in L.A. is expensive. The Valley could be the most cost neutral site.” The requirements for the new owner set out by the league would include constructing a stadium capable of housing about 25,000 fans, which would make it a touch smaller than the $150 million complex in Carson where the Galaxy play, developed and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group. There are also a handful of stadium sites over-the-hill that could garner some attention, most notably the Sports Arena in Exposition Park, which had been talked about as a relocation site for Chivas even before the league took over. It would require demolition of the 55-year-old structure and construction of a new stadium. However, Waldman remains adamant that the Valley is the right place for soccer. “It would be extremely positive for the Valley, creating a significant amount of jobs for construction and during the season,” he said. “We think we have the right sales pitch here, but we’re in the very early phases.” Valley Plaza Corner of Laurel Canyon and Victory Boulevards North Hollywood Acres: About 30 Owner: Mostly iStar Financial Inc., New York. Current Use: Mostly vacant retail center. Rocketdyne 6633 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park Acres: 47 Owner: United Technologies Corp., Hartford, Conn. Current Use: Old manufacturing plant. Owner plans to develop the site into a $3 billion mixed-use neighborhood. CSUN North Campus Zelzah Avenue and Lassen Street, Northridge Acres: About 40 Owner: CSUN Current Use: Old football stadium, a photovoltaic installation, parking and University Village Apartments.

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