The Los Angeles City Council Friday is expected to approve AEG’s proposed $1.1 billion downtown football stadium. The vote could lure the NFL back to Los Angeles.
As the city council prepares to approve plans for a downtown football stadium, Michael Griffin Junior can hardly contain his excitement. Griffin, 28, stands outside a recent City Hall stadium meeting in a blue and yellow Rams football uniform – including a helmet.
“From the moment that I was born, I’ve been a Rams fan,” he says. “December 18, 1983, when Mike Lansford nailed the game winning field goal against the New Orleans Saints. That was the moment I was born.”
Griffin, a videographer who lives in Garden Grove, is with a group called Bring Back the Rams.
“When the Rams left in ‘95, all those childhood memories that I could have had with my dad going to tail gates – all that just stopped.”
Football fever is running high at City Hall. But its about more than a game. For many, a stadium is about adding jobs and increasing much-needed convention business in Los Angeles.
At Friday's meeting, the city council will consider the project development agreement and environmental impact report on AEG’s proposal to build a 76,000-seat stadium and rebuild the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center.
Here is a cool AEG video of the project:
“I do think we are the closest we’ve ever been to returning the NFL back to L.A.,” company president Tim Lieweke said. It’s been 17 years since the Rams and Raiders left town, frustrated over deteriorating stadium facilities (the Coliseum) and declining attendance.
“Every billionaire out there has tried to solve this Rubik’s cube,” said L.A. Times football columnist Sam Farmer. “From Eli Broad to Ron Burkle.”
Land use laws and politics make L.A. challenging for building a stadium and playing football, but so does a fickle NFL leadership. The league has used the threat of teams moving to L.A. to persuade other cities to pay for new or upgraded stadiums.
“Los Angeles has been more valuable to the league – or as valuable - without a team,” Farmer said. “L.A.’s been the boogeyman.”
Then, about three years ago, AEG and its owner Philip Anschutz entered the L.A. football derby. It is one of the largest sports and entertainment venue operators in the world--owner of Staples Center, the Kings hockey team, the Galaxy soccer squad, and a piece of the Lakers. It operates arenas and/or entertainment venues in London, Berlin and Istanbul.
Its proposed $1.1 billion stadium next to Staples was on a fast track at City Hall until the surprise announcement last week that Anschutz is selling the company.
President Tim Leiweke has dismissed reports that insular NFL owners did not want the reclusive billionaire as a colleague, or were angry he wanted a team at a bargain price. He said his boss was simply ready to move on, and that the league is pleased.
“They see this as a good thing because what they want is a long term commitment,” Lieweke said. “What they didn’t want is us getting a team done, and then Phil ducks out.”
The NFL has had no comment on the sale, or its impact on bringing a team to L.A.
L.A. city councilwoman Jan Perry, who headed the Ad Hoc Stadium Committee, said she’ll seek to add language in the development agreement ensuring new owners live up to AEG’s financial commitment not to use taxpayer dollars to built the stadium.
“They have to be fully capitalized – capable of bringing equity to the table, for example,” said Perry, who has been an outspoken supporter of the stadium. “It’s a good deal for the city – especially the convention center.”
To date, no one on the L.A. City Council has been an outspoken critic of the stadium plan.
Under the proposed deal, AEG would pay for a new stadium – to be known as Farmers Field – and use money from city-issued bonds to replace part of the convention center. The company would repay those bonds (estimated at well over $300 million) with lease payments and dedicated tax revenues from the area. The complicated deal includes two new parking garages, widened streets, improvements at Gil Lindsay Plaza, and AEG monetary contributions to job training and youth programs in the area.
For many city officials, the prospect of an updated convention center that could attract bigger meetings and new hotels is the best part of the proposal. The stadium would be attached to the convention hall, and could be used for meetings and display space.
Powerful labor unions have lobbied hard for the project, which purports to create more than 10,000 temporary construction jobs and more than 4,000 permanent jobs at the stadium.
Lieweke indicated AEG also has an interest in the city hiring it to run the convention center – another potentially profitable venture for the company that already runs LA Live.
For some residents, there are questions why the city did not force AEG to adequately explain how it would reduce traffic and the accompanying air pollution (upwards of 25,000 cars are expected for games).
Legal Aid Attorney Barbara Schultz, who represents area residents, the project’s environmental impact report leaves out recommendations from the Air Quality Management District.
“Things like using electric shuttles and quick entry and exit to parking lots,” Schultz said.
AEG has agreed to persuade about a third of fans to take public transportation to games starting in five years
Legal Aid and a group called Play Fair Farmers Field have gone to court to challenge a state law that fast tracks legal challenges to the project. Shultz also said to expect a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit after the City Council acts.
“L.A. hasn’t had an NFL team for some time,” she said. “I think that we can wait a little longer to ensure that we have a project that meets the needs of everyone in the community – especially those living around it, not just those that want to see a football game.”
Critics also worry the stadium will drive area rents out and wipe affordable housing.
AEG’s Leiweke has been urging the city council to act, so he can settle any legal challenges and go to NFL owners to cut a deal with a new team by the March board of governors meeting.
“We want to be able to walk into them next year, first quarter, and be able to have a new owner that has the capability of not just building Farmers Field and the convention center, but buying a piece of a team.”
Lieweke said that’s key to a successful deal: AEG’s owner should also own part of a new football team.
L.A. Times football columnist Sam Farmer says the NFL may be ready to support the move of a team here, but he’s not sure most residents are behind the idea.
“Los Angeles is the Ellis Island of NFL fans. Every NFL fan is represented here,” Farmer said. “There is no overwhelming groundswell for a team to come back.”
L.A. is a tough market for the NFL, with the region’s plethora of entertainment options. And since the Rams and Raiders left, fans can watch almost any NFL game on TV.
“You don’t wait in beer lines, you don’t wait in lines for the bathroom. You don’t pay for your parking,” Farmer said. “You don’t buy a ticket. In fact, with that money that you might have spent on a ticket, you spend on a 51-inch flat screen TV.”
Farmer believes enough people may still go to a game to make a stadium work in L.A., especially if it’s to see a winning team.
AEG hopes to field one starting in 2017.
Developer Ed Roski and Majestic Realty are still hoping to attract an NFL team to land in the City of Industry that already has most of its permits.
Once the L.A. City Council acts, attention turns to persuading a team to come to L.A. There’s been talk of the San Diego Chargers, which can get out of their stadium lease on an annual basis. But Farmer believes the St. Louis Rams may be a more likely choice – not because they would be sentimental favorites. Their stadium is aging, and the city of St. Louis has been reluctant to make upgrades.
“The Rams and the convention and visitors bureau in St. Louis are so far apart on what they think is a suitable solution that I believe the Rams are going to push to get out of their lease,” Farmer said. “Can they get out early? That’s the question.”