Major Hurdles Stand in Way of Stadium Plan : Development: The $150-million Hawthorne project would displace homes and businesses. Feasibility would depend on finding a major tenant--and financing.
Everything about the plan sounds monumental: a state-of-the-art football stadium, 72,000 seats, more than 10,000 parking spaces, up to 200 luxury boxes, a breathtaking $150-million price tag.
That is the ambitious vision of a developers’ group hoping to erect a major sports complex on a wedge of land now occupied by small stores and houses in north Hawthorne.
Supporters talk enthusiastically about how a stadium might flourish on a site close to the San Diego Freeway, the soon-to-be-completed Century Freeway and the planned Green Line rail system.
But the plan’s backers face some formidable hurdles--not the least being whether a major football team can be lined up as a tenant. Others wonder if financing is feasible in the weak Southern California economy. And the city would need to navigate a complex bureaucratic process to make the land available for development.
“We’re approaching this in a very serious, methodical way,” said Greg Kahwajian, an Encino real estate consultant involved in the project. “We’re very realistic about the difficulties and the challenges involved in a project of this type.”
The stadium proposal prompted a Jan. 25 agreement between Imperial Century Partners, a joint venture, and the Hawthorne Redevelopment Agency. The agreement gives Imperial exclusive negotiating rights with the city for nine months on up to 65 acres in northern Hawthorne, near Hawthorne Boulevard south of the Century Freeway.
Kahwajian said the developers are now preparing a financial proposal and assessing potential tenants for the stadium. Among those mentioned are the Los Angeles Raiders and the Los Angeles Rams.
Neither team would appear to be easy to lure. The Raiders, for instance, would seem an unlikely tenant because long-awaited renovations got under way this month at the team’s current home, the 70-year-old Los Angeles Coliseum.
“We hope this signals the start of the fulfillment of commitments that were made to the Raiders organization,” said Amy Trask, counsel to the Raiders, of the Coliseum project. Trask declined comment on whether the Raiders would consider moving to Hawthorne.
Meanwhile, a Rams spokesman said his team is settled in Anaheim with a lease running until 2014.
At UCLA, which has also been mentioned as a tenant, athletic business manager Stephen Salm said: “If the developers who are doing that would want to talk to UCLA, we would listen.” No official conversations have occurred, he said. The UCLA football team now plays in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Also mentioned as a prospect was the U.S. soccer team, which is based in Mission Viejo but does not have a major stadium to call home.
General Manager William Nuttall said that although his team had not had discussions about the Hawthorne stadium, “We always have an interest in stadiums that would host international soccer.”
Asked about the status of discussions with professional sports teams, Kahwajian said only: “We’ve made all the appropriate organizations aware of our plans.”
But Kahwajian asserts that the stadium plan has strong selling points. The proposed site, he points out, is just south of the Century Freeway, which is due to be completed later this year, and close to a Hawthorne Boulevard station planned for the Metro Green Line, which is scheduled to begin operating in late 1994 or early 1995.
And the stadium, he said, would have the rectangular shape of Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami or the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., offering better views between the goal lines than either the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl.
“I don’t think anyone would quarrel with our feeling that Southern California deserves to have a state-of-the-art outdoor sports stadium,” Kahwajian said.
Related projects could include a hotel, stores, residences and a park. Developers have also discussed building a parking area that could double as a commuters’ park-and-ride lot. The target opening date would be 1996, Kahwajian said, “assuming that everything moves at a nice clip.”
Portions of that land are not now classified as a city redevelopment area, which poses another problem for stadium backers.
City efforts to enlarge its redevelopment area were stymied last June when a Superior Court judge ruled that city officials had failed to prove that 254 acres were blighted enough to warrant redevelopment.
The city is now conducting a study to prove the area is indeed blighted. A new redevelopment plan could go to the City Council for approval this summer. That would enable the city to consolidate land by purchasing it from the owners and clearing it to make way for new development.
But Martin Trouillon, one of three residents who successfully fought the earlier plan in court, questions the merits of the city’s efforts to prove blight in the neighborhood.
“They’re trying to convict the area before it’s been convicted,” said Trouillon, adding that he doubts the stadium proposal will succeed.
“Who will move here?” Trouillon asked, pointing to the renovations under way at the Coliseum. “I’m pretty dubious about the whole thing.”