After four hours of public comment, financial analysis and questions for traffic planners and noise consultants, the vote by the five members of Inglewood's City Council to approve plans to build an NFL-caliber stadium was swift and unanimous.
And when it was through, Mayor James Butts had one thing to say.
"Now we can celebrate."
And celebrate they did. In the City Council chambers on the ninth floor of Inglewood City Hall and two overflow rooms full of onlookers watching on TV on the ground floor, about 300 Rams fans and Inglewood citizens erupted at the news.
"We're on our way!" whooped Willie Agee of Inglewood when the vote came through for the 80,000-seat football stadium.
The developer's men in suits shook hands and slapped backs while longtime Inglewood residents laughed. The blue-jerseyed Rams fans who filled half the council chambers high-fived while Tom Bateman, director of the fans club Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams, posed for pictures with a giant cutout picture of team owner Stan Kroenke's head, which he had brought along for the occasion. And while Chris Meany, the lead spokesman for the stadium project, promised to move it full speed ahead, Butts held forth to reporters on what the huge deal might mean for his city.
"This city needs this. It deserves this," he said. "And we got the best deal in the history of stadium financing."
Tuesday night's vote gives full local approval to a $1.86-billion stadium project, which will receive no upfront public financing. Its builders say they want to start construction in December. Ultimately, the Rams future in Inglewood will be decided by the NFL, which is weighing a competing proposal to keep the team in St. Louis as well as a bid by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders to put a stadium in Carson.
But for one night, anyway, Inglewood was clearly in the lead.
Sprinkled in the crowd were a few Oakland Raiders fans, clad in black jerseys and one waving a giant black-and-white flag. A proponent of the stadium marveled at how the sport was uniting the community, which has not had a football team in almost two decades. “I just came from the conference room ... there were people in there in Rams gear and Raiders gear,” she said. “All they needed was a football.”
A man who looked ready to play on a football field slowly raised a ball in the air, sending the crowd into a thunderous roar.
During the meeting, as city consultants spoke on the environmental and fiscal effects of adding the stadium to the mixed-use-development Hollywood Park plan, the group grew weary when the excitement of the speakers was replaced by the technical jargon of experts. First to leave were the older residents. Then the parents with a toddler wearing a Rams poncho hesitantly made their way to the exit.
“Ya’ll need to vote already,” one impatient Rams fan said to the TV as he paced the room. “They said everything they needed to say.”
At three hours into the meeting, only a few dozen die-hard Rams fans remained in the conference room. Then Butts teased the crowd and said: “We need to do the will of the people and we need to do it tonight.”
That was all this group needed. They leaped from their seats and shouted. Then the crowd momentarily simmered down a bit as Butts first voted to adopt the measure. They broke out in a cheer, giving each other high-fives and wielding football helmets and signs. In chorus, they chanted "L.A. Rams! L.A. Rams!." Then one asked "Who's house?" In unison, the crowd replied back, "The Rams' house.”
Andre Jeanbart of Westlake Village celebrated the possible return of a team that he said he has longed for for two decades.
"Ooohhh Wee," he let out a thunderous roar. "I never stay up this late. I'm 41. I'm supposed to be in bed. But now I feel like a 21-year-old. This was worth the wait."
A pal patted Jeanbart on his back: "See you at the stadium."
"Yeah, see you there," Jeanbart said.
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