L.A. officials vow to protect city’s interests in NFL deal
Los Angeles officials promised Monday to take new steps to protect the city’s interests in pending agreements for a new downtown NFL stadium now that the company looking to develop the project has been put up for sale.
With a final vote on the $1.5-billion stadium and convention center upgrade set for Friday, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller told a City Council panel that he was drafting language to make sure whoever gains control of Anschutz Entertainment Group — the sports and entertainment giant proposing the project — has experience running major sports venues.
Miller, the council’s top policy advisor, said a new owner would have to abide by the city’s agreements. Those agreements should include additional language to ensure the stadium project is not turned over to someone of troubling “character,” he said.
“I think we need to define it a little more specifically … to make sure that we’re dealing with someone who is, to be blunt, not a crook,” said Miller.
Plans to sell AEG went public last week, blindsiding some at City Hall who have worked extensively on the stadium. After the announcement, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he had known about the possibility for “some time” but had not informed analysts evaluating the project.
The council’s stadium committee endorsed the deal Monday after AEG President Tim Leiweke apologized for allowing the AEG sale announcement to create a “disruption of the process.” Friday’s council vote involves the project’s development agreement, environmental impact report and leases of city-owned land.
Councilman Jose Huizar said he wanted to assure the public that AEG’s top executives, including Leiweke, who has cultivated close ties with City Hall over the last decade, would remain in place.
Leiweke stressed that he has a new contract with AEG that would last at least five years. But speaking with reporters after the vote, he acknowledged there was no guarantee that he would stay.
“How do I know the new owner won’t fire me? He might, at the end of the day,” Leiweke said. “But it would certainly take a lot of the value of the company away.”
AEG and city officials have been working for two years on the proposed 72,000-seat stadium, which would be built on city land currently occupied by a wing of the Convention Center. New stadium revenue is supposed to repay most of the bonds issued for construction of a replacement wing of the center.
Up to $268 million in borrowing would be the responsibility of the city’s general fund budget, which pays for police officers and firefighters. Under the agreements, AEG would make up the shortfall if stadium revenue fails to cover the new convention center debt payments.
The idea of selling AEG first arose last summer, after the company’s Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, Leiweke said. Villaraigosa was informed of the possibility at least two weeks ago and learned that the sale was moving forward the night before it was announced, he said.
“We were not trying to hide the story,” Leiweke said. AEG’s owner, billionaire Philip Anschutz, “made the decision to get it out there before it got to this point with the City Council.”
Leiweke said he expected a new owner to be in place by March, when NFL team owners were expected to discuss moving a team to Los Angeles. If AEG ultimately fails to secure a team, the city agreements will be “null and void,” he said.
Without a team and stadium, city leaders would need to find another means of upgrading the Convention Center, which officials view as an obstacle to attracting major, revenue-generating gatherings. “In the worst-case [scenario], we’re left where we are today,” Miller said.
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