Slippery Slope?

Anaheim finally approves much-vaunted indoor ski park

Photo by Keith MayOn Feb. 15, the Anaheim City Council approved a 55-year lease granting a sizable chunk of the Edison International Field parking lot to an Orange County investment group intent on building Gotcha Glacier, a 35-acre indoor skatepark, ski slope and retail/restaurant/entertainment center.

There's at least one problem with the deal, however: Anaheim green-lighted the lease—which is estimated to be worth $14 million to the city over the next few decades—without receiving a single guarantee from the developer, Glacier of Anaheim LLP, on three critical issues: how the construction will be financed, what (if any) potential tenants have been secured, and whether the project will generate enough revenue to cover the lease.

Oh, and the project is already 16 months behind schedule.

Bradford Kinney, CEO of Glacier of Anaheim, failed to respond to requests for an interview.

An economic analysis of the Glacier project provided by the city shows that when the original agreement was signed in December 1998, Anaheim expected the project to generate $8.9 million per year in sales-tax revenue. As of this month, that number has dropped to $7 million. And even as construction has fallen further and further behind schedule, the project's overall price tag has more than doubled—to a tentative total of $105 million.

Given these facts, one can't help but wonder why Anaheim hasn't been a lot more cautious about the deal. The city's confidence seems a bit reckless, given Anaheim's past failures in seeking to transform downtown Anaheim into a labyrinth of tourist destinations.

If it goes as currently planned, the project will be completed by early 2002 and include Internet cafés, a scuba-diving tank, a wind tunnel for simulated skydiving, and powder for extreme-ski fanatics seven days per week, 365 days per year.

Sounds great. Of course, so did Sportstown.

With the exception of the upscale concert venue Sun Theatre—which opened last year to replace the failed Tinseltown, an awards-show-themed restaurant—the much-vaunted Glacier project is all that remains of Anaheim's ill-fated, 159-acre sports, retail and entertainment complex.

When Anaheim first announced its plans for Sportstown in 1996, it called for a series of restaurants, hotels, gardens, and even various indoor and outdoor venues for local sports teams and community groups. The most ambitious aspect of the deal involved a proposed football stadium and a monorail that would link tourists to nearby Disneyland and retail shops. But despite all the pretty architectural drawings and heady talk, Anaheim never got Disney to publicly back the project. The city, which lost the Rams to St. Louis six seasons ago, also failed last year to woo an NFL team into playing in the proposed stadium.

The city's current lease with Glacier isn't the first Anaheim signed in its effort to make money on the plot next to the Sun Theatre. In 1998, the city had a similar agreement with Forest City Enterprises, a Cleveland-based sports-facilities developer. But the deal fell apart after Forest City decided that it couldn't find any restaurants that could compete with Downtown Disney, the sprawling entertainment mecca that will sprout between the existing theme park and the looming California Adventure.

Strangely, however, Anaheim city officials do not seem concerned about the delays that have plagued the Glacier project—or the lack of details on its future profitability.

Elisa Stipkovich, the city's redevelopment director, said that all the details are supposed to be worked out in the next several months. If the city isn't satisfied, Anaheim can break the lease, but it also has the option of allowing the developer to go back to the drawing board, she said.

"We feel we're adequately covered in terms of value," Stipkovich said. "They [Glacier] tell us everything is going well."

 
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