As expected, the Los Angeles City Council approved plans Friday to build a professional football stadium in downtown L.A., though the actual construction of Farmers Field remains contingent on convincing an NFL team to relocate here.
The unanimous vote followed presentations by stadium developer Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) that included appearances from athletes Rodney Peete and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, businessman Steve Bing and high school football teams from South L.A.
Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong was also in the chamber. He is expected to make a bid for AEG, which is being sold by its parent company, the Anschutz Corporation. AEG executives have said they will find a buyer who will abide by its agreement with the city.
Asked about Soon-Shiong’s appearance and his interest in purchasing AEG, the company’s chief Tim Leiweke told reporters, “I don’t speak on his behalf yet.” Leiweke's contract with AEG was recently extended by five years. It's expected he will continue to work with a new owner.
The $1.5 billion stadium will be privately financed by AEG. The company proposes knocking down the West Hall of the Convention Center to make way for Farmers Field. The space will be replaced with a new wing along Pico Boulevard.
“Our commitment is, we are going to now work harder at getting this done," Leiweke said. "We’re going to find not only a team, but I believe we’re going to have a chance to get two teams."
Both the Los Angeles Rams and Raiders left town in 1995.
If NFL owners approve a team's move to L.A. next spring, the city will then issue bonds to pay for the projected $314 million convention center building. Those bonds would be repaid by AEG. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana warned that if interest rates increase, the new hall could have a $27 million shortfall. In that case, AEG and the city of Los Angeles would split the difference.
Approval of the project comes even as activists with the Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition have sued the State of California over a law that allowed AEG to expedite environmental concerns related to the stadium. No hearing date for the lawsuit has been set.
Before taking the unanimous vote, members of the City Council went out of their way to praise AEG and describe how bringing professional football to Los Angeles could end the city’s economic woes and inspire civic pride, especially among troubled youths.
“We have to find the reasons to inspire our young people and to many tens of thousands of people in our region, that is sports,” said councilman Richard Alarcon. “The fact that we don’t have a football team in Los Angeles — honestly we’ve done OK, but I believe we have the potential to inspire tens of thousands more to stay just afloat until they finally figure out that education is what they want to achieve."
“Would Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have written a book today … would he have been able to write a book if he were not inspired by sports? I don’t know, maybe,” Alarcon said.
Councilman Paul Koretz, a former member of the State Legislature, called the vote the most “important political decision” of his career.
In addition to the formal votes, the L.A. City Council approved a resolution “enthusiastically” endorsing Farmers Field and inviting the NFL to visit downtown L.A. Councilman Eric Garcetti also introduced a motion calling for local ownership of whatever team locates to Los Angeles.
Absent from the vote were Councilmen Tom LaBonge, Bill Rosendahl and Tony Cardenas.
This post has been updated.