L.A. Now

Inglewood residents have high hopes attached to the arrival of the NFL

With an NFL football team headed its way, a city that once teetered on the brink of bankruptcy is reveling in the idea of revitalization.

“It’s going to boom,” predicted 66-year-old resident Michael Benbow. "You're not going to recognize Inglewood in the next three to four years.”

The arrival of the Rams and the City of Champions Stadium -- the team’s flashy future venue named in homage to Inglewood’s nickname back when it was home to the Lakers -- has given hope to many in the town of 112,000.

Longtime residents remember when the Inglewood Forum roared to life during Lakers and Kings games, when animated crowds turned up in droves at the Hollywood Park racetrack, when Inglewood was a sought-out destination.

"We had identity," recalled Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts.

Business owners hope that same luster will return.

Derrick Brown, who owns a Cajun and Creole restaurant on Prairie Avenue, said he saw a rise in customers when the Forum was renovated a few years ago.

One night, Bourbon Street Fish bustled until 2 a.m., due to an influx of concertgoers and crew. Some regulars even pay Brown $25 to park in his restaurant’s parking lot during a show.

He’s noticed new businesses popping up and rising property values, but the 50-year-old who has spent more than half of his life in Inglewood believes his city’s economy will truly shine with an NFL franchise.

“Inglewood is on the rise,” Brown said. He plans to remodel his eatery before the new stadium is finished.

Three blocks down the street, Shankar Patel said he hoped the stadium will breathe new life into his motel. He has yet to hear how or if the 15-room Hollywood Park Motel, which sits across from the site of the future venue, will be affected.

“We want to be here, on this spot,” Patel, 55, said. “It would be nice to be part of this.”

In sleepy downtown Inglewood, where it’s not uncommon to spot vacant storefronts, shop owners have long told stories of gloom.

“Inglewood is dead. There’s nothing going on,” said Bass Lo, who owns Top Diversified Fashions.

“We are struggling every day. We struggle to pay rent, to pay for parking. Today I only made $10."

Lo said the stadium can’t come fast enough.

"Inglewood needs this," he said.

But writer Erin Aubry Kaplan is skeptical about the city hinging its transformation on the return of the Rams.

“We’ve had sport venues before and franchises here,” Kaplan said. “It did not automatically translate into a better Inglewood.”

During the Lakers’ 32-year tenure at the Forum, the team was not an economic boon for the city, she said.

“The money did not trickle down,” Kaplan said.

Instead, she said, people came to Inglewood to watch the games, then left.

Times staff writer Corina Knoll contributed to this report.

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