Firm seeks massive complex of signs

Times Staff Writer

More than 50,000 square feet of billboards and flashing electronic signs -- nearly the size of a football field -- would be hung from the city-owned Los Angeles Convention Center under a proposal being pushed by the developer of Staples Center and LA Live.

The three dozen signs would include digital advertising beaming out to freeway drivers and two mammoth signs covering portions of the center’s iconic glass towers.

City officials said the signs would meld with efforts to transform that area of downtown Los Angeles into a vibrant sports and entertainment zone, which includes the Nokia Theatre and will soon feature movie theaters, restaurants and a 54-story luxury hotel.


The first significant step in the review process begins today, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to grant Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that owns Staples Center, exclusive signage rights to the convention center.

But members of a local neighborhood association are vowing to fight the proposal, saying the area already is starting the resemble the over-the-top glitz of Las Vegas and is disrupting the everyday lives of nearby residents.

“A lot of the neighbors already are complaining about the fact that it’s a wall of lights,” said James King of the Pico-Union Neighborhood Council. “They are basically living in a carnival district.”

The proposal for the billboards and signs was submitted by the convention center on behalf of AEG, which is overseeing the $2.5-billion LA Live development.

A spokesman for AEG on Wednesday said the company would work with local residents to ensure their concerns are addressed and is “amenable to reasonable restrictions” on the brightness of the digital signs as well as the hours they would be operated.

“We have a great track record working with neighborhood groups to take their views into consideration, and will continue to have a dialogue,” said AEG spokesman Michael Roth.

King and the president of his neighborhood council, Dr. Mary Ann Hutchinson, said they don’t expect to have much luck opposing the AEG proposal because of the company’s political clout. AEG already has received up to $270 million in financial help from the city of Los Angeles to build LA Live.

AEG and its executives have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to local politicians and their political projects, including $100,000 to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Better Schools and $100,000 to the Mayor’s Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability, state and city election records show.

AEG also has contributed to at least 11 of the 15 current members of the City Council, as well as City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Controller Laura Chick.

Villaraigosa said Tuesday he believes that LA Live is a good concept and beneficial to the city. He said he was not familiar with the details of the AEG signage proposal for the convention center, but would turn his attention to the issue as it winds through the city’s review process.

The mayor dismissed any suggestion that he or any city officials have been swayed by AEG’s political activities.

“You know, the L.A. Times supported LA Live. Virtually every business in the downtown area supported LA Live because it’s going to bring tourism, new hotels, new restaurants and jobs to the city of Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said. “I can tell you, it’s not about political power, it’s about the economic contribution they make to the city.”

If the city gives AEG the exclusive signage rights, the firm would pay the city at least $2 million a year over the next decade and also share in some of AEG’s net profits from commercial advertising.

That agreement states that 25% of the advertising on the electronic displays must be devoted to promoting events at the convention center, Staples Center or LA Live; 25% can be used for official “sponsors” at AEG facilities, such as soft drink companies or convention exhibitors; and AEG can sell the remaining 50% to commercial advertisers. Commercial advertising would be allowed on all the standard billboards.

AEG also would have the right to serve as the city’s agent if the naming rights of the convention center are sold, but the proposal does not state how much AEG would be compensated.

Only if that signage rights agreement is approved by the council will the application for the actual design and location of the signs be considered. That application, which was submitted to the city in August, will be considered separately, first by the city’s Planning Commission and then by the council.

According to the AEG signage plans, the most visible change would be on the green back wall of the convention center’s South Hall, visible to drivers going from the 10 Freeway to the northbound 110. The wall would have four electronic billboards, flashing messages and commercial ads, and 14 standard, fixed-image billboards.

Massive signs also would adorn the convention center’s signature feature -- the two soaring towers of glass panels and white metal tubing that face South Figueroa Street-- including one sign that would measure 75 feet high and 66 feet wide. The convention center was built in 1972 and underwent a dramatic expansion and redesign in the early 1990s.

The primary architect of the updated facility was James Ingo Freed, who designed the acclaimed Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and was a longtime partner of architect I.M. Pei.

Before he died in 2005, Freed told The Times that the intent of the modernistic glass-and-metal structure and towers -- one 13 stories high and the other 15 stories high -- was to allow conventioneers to peer outside at the downtown skyline, bringing the city inside, and to allow those outside to look in.

Those views apparently would be partially blocked by the proposed new signs.

“I tried to get the feel for Los Angeles,” he told The Times in 1993. “And somehow get the feel of how the city is in the building. It’s a lot less formal city than New York, and much of the architecture is livelier.”