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Staples Center Area Rezoned to Further Builders’ Grand Plan

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeking to energize downtown Los Angeles, the City Council on Tuesday took a major step in allowing two of the world’s richest men to transform 27 acres around Staples Center into a shopping, dining and entertainment district.

Although city officials and representatives of media baron Rupert Murdoch and Denver railroad magnate Philip Anschutz are still finalizing terms of the development agreement, the council voted 13 to 0 to rezone the area to allow the $1-billion project to move forward.

City lawmakers are expected to vote today on the details of the project, which is being billed as a West Coast version of New York’s revitalized Times Square. Although the developers say they need city assistance to build a 45-story hotel on the site, that matter won’t be decided by the council until later this year.

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In general, city officials and community members Tuesday praised the Staples expansion as a crucial step in revitalizing the city’s core while forming a strong coalition with area residents and union leaders.

The development plan calls for building a 7,000-seat theater for musicals, award shows and other live entertainment, as well as two apartment towers with a total of 800 units, and a smaller hotel. A 250,000-square-foot expansion of the adjacent Los Angeles Convention Center is in the works.

Unlike efforts several years ago to build the Staples arena, the latest project is enjoying strong support from numerous community groups, which have praised the developers for seeking to provide affordable housing and jobs with fair wages.

Under the plan, the developers--who have formed a corporation called Arena Land Co.--have agreed to pay a “living wage” for at least 70% of the 5,500 permanent jobs the project is expected to create. In addition to Murdoch and Anschutz, Ed Roski, a multimillionaire Los Angeles real estate developer, is also behind the project.

“It includes an incredible, unprecedented jobs program,” said Madeline Aparicio, who heads the Living Wage Coalition. “We hope this will become a template for future projects. We support this development and we are excited for it to move forward.”

A number of City Council members echoed those comments.

“This expansion includes housing, jobs, a solid commitment to community-based organizations, affordable housing and social service providers in a way that was not realized the first time,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the development zone. “I support this with a great deal of confidence.”

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Councilman Eric Garcetti agreed.

“This agreement really begins to chip away at the idea that economic prosperity and social justice cannot go hand in hand,” he said. “We showed today that we can put those together.”

But Councilman Nick Pacheco said he wanted guarantees that the developers wouldn’t back out on their promise to build a hotel, which is needed to boost business at the nearby convention center.

“The current agreements do not go far enough in reassuring us that our hotel is going to be built,” Pacheco complained. “It’s important to the health and well-being of all of downtown.”

Tim Leiweke, president of Arena Land Co., which owns Staples Center, sought to assure Pacheco and other council members that the hotel is a priority and that developers will present a plan for it in the next few months.

Although the plan before the council Tuesday did not address the issue of taxpayer help, city officials are trying to determine whether the hotel is viable without a public subsidy. The City Council in June agreed to spend $150,000 to hire a consultant to advise the city on its options, including using up to $75 million in taxes collected at the hotel to help finance the project.

Councilman Jack Weiss introduced a motion that calls on the consultant to examine ways to protect the city’s general fund.

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“We all want to see revitalization downtown,” he said. “At the same time, all of us want to protect the public. We want to protect the taxpayers.”

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