Latest L.A. proposal for NFL stadium has a roof


The latest concept for an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles — a $1-billion venue next to Staples Center — has, The Times has learned, something none of its scuttled predecessors had.

A ceiling.

Although that might seem like a minor distinction, proponents of that project say that a retractable roof would greatly enhance the versatility of the building, making it ideal for major sporting events such as the Final Four, championship title fights, and all sorts of national conventions.

Influential businessmen Casey Wasserman and Tim Leiweke are investigating the possibility of developing a privately financed stadium where the convention center’s West Hall sits. That would serve as the cornerstone of AEG’s sprawling sports and entertainment district, a so-called campus that already includes Staples Center, LA Live, and a just-constructed 1,000-room hotel.

Wasserman approached Leiweke with the idea last October, touting the site as the most viable and interesting solution for a region that has struggled to find both.

“This is just thinking right now,” said Leiweke, AEG’s president and chief executive. “It’s saying, ‘If we’re going to invest this kind of time and money anyway — even if it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dollar — shouldn’t we think about the other uses if we had a roof to cover it?’”

The vision is that the complex would not only be the quintessential site for Super Bowls but also could play host to the Pro Bowl; the NFL draft (alternating years with New York); the scouting combine (alternating years with Indianapolis); and the finals of the World Cup in 2022. The NFL has made it clear that any new stadium in Southern California should be able to accommodate two teams, leaving open the possibility that the primary tenant could one day share the venue.

The backers believe L.A. would be the ideal spot for virtually every major convention, which could use the stadium along with supplemental space added to replace the West Hall (roughly 14 acres). That’s sufficient space to fit the structure of any current NFL stadium.

“This is the final piece to the downtown puzzle,” said Wasserman, founder and chief executive of Wasserman Media Group. “It’s the only chance for the city to benefit from the economic power of a stadium of this caliber.”

Backers say a stadium of this magnitude would have unparalleled revenue streams from a variety of sources, among them naming rights, suites, Super Bowls and seat licenses that would pay for the facility in similar fashion to its neighboring Staples Center.

Buying a team would cost about $1 billion more, but that wouldn’t necessarily be required if a franchise relocated with the same owner.

The city owns the convention center, and the support of the mayor and City Council would be essential to the downtown project. There is precedent for such a transaction, however, as Staples Center was built on the site of the convention center’s North Hall.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who counts Leiweke and Wasserman among his longtime political supporters, was unavailable to comment on the proposal. A spokeswoman for the mayor also declined to comment. Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes Staples Center and LA Live, said she was unaware of any new proposal to build a new football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

Calling the pursuit of a stadium daunting is an understatement. A long list of business leaders — some of them billionaires — have tried and failed to bring the NFL back to the nation’s second-largest market.

What’s more, the downtown bid would put Wasserman and Leiweke in direct competition with developer Ed Roski, who already has an entitled and shovel-ready piece of land in City of Industry to build a football stadium. There is only room for one such project in the L.A. area, and the Industry group is at least a year ahead of any other because it has clearance to build.

However, no one is going to build a stadium without team, and the league is not going to entertain the possibility of a team relocating before the labor dispute is resolved. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March 2011, and owners want players to participate in paying off the enormous cost of stadiums.

All signs point to it being at least a year before any project gets the kind of traction needed to move forward, which gives the downtown concept time to catch up.

This isn’t the first downtown proposal by Wasserman and Leiweke. Eight years ago, they touted building a stadium in South Park, also near Staples Center. They pulled out of that plan, however, when the Coliseum Commission vowed to make its own bid to land an NFL team.

Times have changed, though. The Coliseum has a long-term deal with USC, and the commission is no longer pursuing pro football.

“We’re married to USC,” Coliseum General Manager Pat Lynch said. “They have a seat at the table if we ever talk NFL, so we’re not talking about the NFL. I haven’t been approached by the NFL.

“We’re not active, so therefore the door’s open for these other sites.”

Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.