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A rendering of the proposed Dodger Stadium LA Aerial Rapid Transit project.
Courtesy of Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies

It’s not my Money(ball)! - Bonus Dodgers Edition - Here Today, Gon-dola

Or “The gondola project deserves far more public scrutiny.”

For those keeping score:

And now...Here Today, Gon-dola

I do my level best not to lie while writing here, regardless of what random commenters, or otherwise, say. The “It’s not my Money(ball)!” series was originally just an opportunity to expand a comment that I previously wrote that indirectly led to me getting a job with the site. And we have had a measure of fun, often at the owners’ expense pointing out the financial disrepair of certain aspects of the league. I have tried not to punch down at other fanbases, after all, you like what you like and that is generally as valid as anything else in this life.

But after thoroughly examining the misdeeds of the Athletics and preparing to examine the shenanigans of the Rays, I would be homer-ish to ignore a festering problem. I stumbled upon a story recently in the Los Angeles Times and frankly, it is time we took a look at our own house. As much as it pains me to write the following sentence, we need to have a talk about Frank McCourt after we spent a bit of time focusing on Elon Musk.

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images

As you recall, in Part 1, I briefly touched upon arguably the worst owner that the Dodgers ever had.

TrueBlueLA, Michael Elizondo, February 4, 2022:

Two words: Frank. McCourt.

Remember him? The man who literally drove the Dodgers into a financial ditch. The man who still gets paid as part owner of Dodger Stadium parking lots — Editor’s note: the team pays $14 million annually in rent for the lots to a joint entity owned by McCourt and the Guggenheim ownership group, though McCourt does not receive or share any annual parking revenue — which is why I refuse to park there under 99.9999% of circumstances.

You would think, okay - McCourt doesn’t receive any of the annual parking revenue of Dodger Stadium. You might naturally think that McCourt has nothing further to do with the team, and therefore, out of sight, out of mind. Well, that statement is not entirely accurate as he’s on the periphery. But in order to understand what is happening now, we have to go back about five years.

So you want to build a gondola.

One of the two proposed routes for the McCourt-backed Gondola project.
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Project

We previously discussed the Dodger Stadium Express last time, so we do not need to linger here for very long. Apart from the year that wasn’t in 2020, this complementary service has been in place. Per Metro, more than 2.5 million people have used the service to access the stadium from 2010 to the start of the 2022 season.

The irony and outstanding problem relating to the overall nightmare that is getting in and out of Dodger Stadium, which I am in no way qualified to answer, is why a similar setup in Milwaukee seems to work so much better than in Los Angeles. The best hypothesis that I can think of is that not-Miller Park/American Life Field is smaller than Dodger Stadium, and as such, has fewer people attending. I am not versed in traffic science, so I will reach out to Traffic/Infrastructure YouTubers to see if they can help answer this question at a later date.

The other proposed route for the McCourt-backed Gondola project.
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Project

However, supplemental transportation plans were proposed in 2018, starting with the gondola project, a.k.a. the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Project (“LA ART” or “Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies”).

Los Angeles Times, Laura J. Nelson, April 26, 2018:

Now, a company funded by former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has proposed a possible solution [to people arriving late to Dodger games because of traffic near the stadium]: a gondola lift that would whisk passengers from Union Station to Dodger Stadium by air in five minutes.

It’s an unorthodox proposal in a city where big ideas often flare up and die out — like a similar pitch for an aerial system to the Hollywood sign. But this time, backers say, the plan is for real.

“I am absolutely confident that this will happen,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters Thursday. “It’s not actually crazy. It may seem like that because in Los Angeles, we don’t have this. But this exists in over a dozen cities around the world.”...

The article stated that the LA ART project was still under environmental review and compared the project to another infrastructure project that was privately funded, Elon Musk’s tunnel project, which we discussed last time. Ms. Nelson’s article continued by pointing out that Frank McCourt’s investment firm would fund a portion of the LA ART project’s estimated $125-million cost and would seek private financing for the remainder.

Proposed view of a gondola cab on the Union Station - Dodger Stadium system
Courtesy of Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies

The article also pointed out that McCourt sold the Dodgers in 2011 but retained half interest in the 130 acres of parking around the stadium, where the proposed gondola line would reach its terminus. Moreover, the McCourt-backed firm was seeking Metro’s approval on the project and help with an environmental impact report and a community outreach process. At the time of the article, the McCourt-backed firm also hoped to sign a lease agreement to build a gondola stop at Union Station. Project officials said at the time that the company would reimburse Metro for costs associated with environmental review and public hearings.

Los Angeles Times, Laura J. Nelson, April 26, 2018:

...Under the Dodgers’ 2012 sale agreement, the land surrounding Dodger Stadium is jointly controlled by McCourt and the team’s current ownership. The Dodgers will not be required to contribute to the financing of the gondola, Welborne said. Though lenders might be more receptive to finance a gondola that goes to Dodger Stadium 365 days a year — rather than just on 81 home-game dates — Welborne said development of the stadium site is not necessary to make the project financially viable. “No development plans are proposed,” she said.

The firm would need to acquire some right-of-way in the Chinatown area to build the support posts for the gondola wires and to secure the air rights to the space above some buildings. Acquiring land is often one of the most expensive — and contentious — parts of a transportation project.

Still, [Mayor] Garcetti said, that isn’t a concern. The project takes up little space on the ground, and it would be possible to build a route from Union Station that would not go above houses or businesses, perhaps through Los Angeles State Historic Park. In other cases, he said, the gondola wires would be high enough to avoid air rights above buildings....Project supporters hope public outreach can start by the end of the year, with final decisions on routes and stations in 2019 or 2020. The system could begin service by opening day in 2022, Garcetti said, well ahead of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

[emphasis added.]

Per LA ART’s own materials involving estimates for gondola capacity, when completed the gondola would hold 30-40 people per car, traveling up to 20 mph to get from Union Station to Dodger Stadium in five to seven minutes, ferrying up to 5,500 people an hour. A final route was selected during the height of the pandemic, as shown below.

Proposed final route of the Union Station - Dodger Stadium gondola
Courtesy of Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies

As a route was selected, you might be tempted to believe that the project is pending and that all that needs to be done is to build the bloody thing. Not quite. Clearly, construction on the Gondola was not started, much less completed, by the start of the 2022 season. In order to fully examine how things are the way they are, we are going to have to examine issues that exceed the scope of this current series. We’ll need to have a Law Talk.

Time for a Crossover with Law Talk

Next time, “It’s not my Money(ball)!” crosses over with “Law Talk,” as we break down the issues of environmental review, eminent domain, and an ongoing lawsuit as to this ongoing project.

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