Billionaire willing to buy NFL team to make L.A. stadium work

Billionaire developer Philip Anschutz is committed to the idea of an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles and is willing to buy a team himself in order to make the deal work, his top executive said Monday.

Speaking to Times reporters and editors, Anschutz Entertainment Group President Tim Leiweke downplayed recent reports that NFL executives are dissatisfied with the terms of AEG’s proposal for a team, as well as talk of possible competition from a Chavez Ravine football stadium now that ownership of the Dodgers has changed hands.

Leiweke said Anschutz is ready to write a check for both the downtown stadium and a team as long as he can get a “reasonable” deal out of the football league.

His pledge to buy a full stake in a team marks a new level of commitment for Anschutz, who Leiweke had previously said was willing to buy only 50% of an NFL franchise. But the company is also exploring backup plans if the NFL deal stalls.

One of them involves the aging, city-owned Convention Center that abuts the proposed stadium site and AEG’s Staples Center and L.A. Live sports and entertainment venues.

A plan to use new tax revenue generated by the stadium to finance a major upgrade of the Convention Center was crucial to garnering City Hall support last year. Leiweke said that his company is now considering how to revamp the exhibition center even if a pro football stadium is not built.

Leiweke did not say how AEG would finance a Convention Center makeover without the new taxes generated by a stadium, but he reiterated his view that making the center more competitive with other cities is critical to the city’s economy. His firm’s investments in the area, which include the J.W. Marriott hotel, also would benefit, he acknowledged.

L.A.'s top budget official said he also hopes the Convention Center rehab goes forward “if for some reason the stadium does not work out.” Chief Administration Officer Miguel Santana said privatizing management of the center could help fund the reconstruction.

Leiweke said that AEG would bid on a contract to manage the center. He also said that the estimated price tag of renovating the Convention Center has risen and would require about $20 million more in bonds than the $195 million called for under a draft agreement with the city.

Leiweke acknowledged that it’s possible that the new owners of the Dodgers could propose a football stadium at the baseball team’s home in Chavez Ravine. Leiweke said he was in talks with Magic Johnson and his co-owners at Guggenheim Baseball Management, although he did not specify what the talks were about.

AEG has invested $27 million in the stadium project, according to Leiweke.

On Thursday the company plans to issue a 10,000-page environmental impact report, setting off a 45-day public comment period. A final report will be followed by a 175-day window for environmental-related legal challenges. If all goes well, officials say the downtown site would be on an equal regulatory footing with another, fully entitled football stadium proposal in the City of Industry by March of next year, which Leiweke said is the earliest that the NFL could decide to move a team.

Leiweke said Anschutz instructed him to get the project clear of city approvals before beginning serious negotiations with a team. “Get past your obstacles,” he recalled Anschutz telling him. “And if you get clear of that, I’ll get in a room and make a deal with the NFL.”

Anschutz is willing to be flexible on a deal structure to address league concerns about AEG attempting to strip coveted assets, including marketing deals and relations with premium customers, from the control of the principal team owner, Leiweke said.

The environmental report outlines mitigation measures to ease traffic congestion, including $2.5 million in freeway improvements and more than $10 million for the expansion of a nearby light rail line.

The company plans to build only 1,100 additional parking spaces, in part because it hopes that a quarter of the trips to the stadium will involve public transit.

On Monday, Leiweke also unveiled plans to redevelop Gilbert Lindsay Plaza, a largely concrete space outside the Convention Center, into a civic square that would also serve as a gathering spot for what he called a new, family-oriented tailgating experience. Officials said the park would bring together local food vendors, such as Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n Waffles and Manuel’s Tepeyac.

The park, combined with other more traditional tailgating, would “create the greatest tailgating party in history,” Leiweke said.