Los Angeles may soon host professional football again.
The City Council this week is likely to approve a tentative deal for a new football stadium that’s expected to attract an NFL team to L.A. for the first time in decades. The city’s leadership is unanimous in its support of a project that promises new jobs and tax revenue. Critics say stadium developers are promising more than they can deliver.
Nostalgia in part drives the football stadium debate. Remember the Los Angeles Rams?
Quarterback Vince Ferragamo led the Rams to the Super Bowl in January of 1980, a decade and a half before they and the Raiders left Los Angeles in 1994.
“When the Rams left, L.A. lost a piece of itself," Ferragamo said. "It’s time to get it back."
But L.A. can’t get an NFL team without a new stadium. And that new stadium would go in downtown L.A. next to Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers play.
Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the world’s largest owner of sports teams and events and owner of Staples, has proposed to tear down part of the L.A. Convention Center and build a $1.2 billion, 72,000-seat stadium. The city would issue tax exempt bonds to build a new convention hall, but AEG would pay off those bonds.
Los Angeles City council members love the idea. "I want to thank AEG, and its leadership team, especially Tim Leiweke," Councilman Bill Rosendahl said. "I'd like to also thank the private investor AEG," said Councilman Tony Cardenas. Councilwoman Jan Perry said, "I believe the report before us is a very good deal for the taxpayers."
A good deal, say councilmembers, because a consultant hired by the city estimates the project would generate $410 million in new tax revenue over 30 years for deficit-ridden L.A. – in part because a rebuilt convention center and stadium would attract more conventions, more hotels, more restaurants.
That’s why labor unions are among its biggest backers. “We’ve got 40 percent unemployment," says Robbie Hunter of the Building Trades Council. "Plumbers, electricians, ironworkers – all of those people would go to work.”
But estimates vary on how many jobs a new stadium and rebuilt convention center would create. Business writer Mark Lacter says AEG has estimated as many as 30,000. The city’s consultant has estimated 6,300.
He’s skeptical of the company’s claims the project will be an economic boon for Los Angeles. “Generally speaking, these sorts of projects do not present a tremendous benefit for the overall economy," Lacter says, "certainly an economy as large as L.A.'s. Again, it’s not a disaster, but it’s not this grand kind of addition that’s been promised.”
Some residents who live near the proposed stadium site oppose the project. Jane Scott told the Council she worries about a cavalcade of cars clogging her street for games.
"If this deal, and I’m sure this is a done deal and this is a dog and pony show, then there has to be something very, very permanent to protect our community," Scott said.
“I need to assure you that this Council does not see this as a dog and pony show," Ed Reyes said.
Reyes said L.A. will address traffic and pollution concerns raised by the Sierra Club in an environmental impact report due next year. "We will have a planning meeting to focus on those issues.”
AEG’s CEO Tim Leiweke said the stadium is a good deal for Los Angeles. “I know occasionally we had to deal with CAVE-men – 'citizens against virtually everything.' But I also know, with 40 percent unemployment in the trades...”
L.A. is in a race with the City of Industry. It’s approved a proposal by Majestic Realty to build a stadium at what Industry now calls “Grand Crossing.”
But analysts believe the NFL would rather place a team in L.A. AEG officials say if city support for the stadium holds, they hope to have a team in L.A. by 2016 – a mere 22 years after the Rams and Raiders packed up and left.