In four months, the proposal by Anschutz Entertainment Group to build a downtown football stadium will expire if an NFL team is not committed to play at the venue. That’s too bad; this page had supported the idea, which seems to be going nowhere. One of the big reasons for our support was the promise by AEG to renovate the city’s struggling Convention Center.
The Convention Center, on the southern edge of downtown near Staples Center, has long been derided as a white elephant. It’s too small, too old and its exhibition space too disjointed to attract big, high-value events. AEG had proposed to demolish the center’s older West Hall to make way for the stadium and to build a replacement wing. The construction debt would be paid with tax revenue generated by the new stadium, and AEG would cover any shortfall. But if there’s no football team, there’s no stadium and no renovated Convention Center.
On Wednesday, the City Council voted to begin work on a Plan B in which the city would borrow money to pay for the renovation itself. The plan calls for a design competition, with architectural firms submitting proposals to expand the center and to identify private development opportunities, such as building a hotel as part of the project. With the overhaul estimated to cost as much as $300 million, the city would need some kind of private partnership to help cover the cost of the project.
Before charging ahead with a city-funded project, however, the City Council and mayor should take a hard look at whether L.A. really needs to expand its Convention Center. It’s become accepted wisdom in City Hall that it must in order to stay competitive; San Francisco, San Diego and Anaheim are all expanding or renovating their facilities, even as the convention market has slowed.
But does it make sense for Los Angeles to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a Convention Center that has continually underperformed and is in an area that, frankly, will never have the same draw as oceanfront San Diego or Disneyland-adjacent Anaheim? City officials believe the Convention Center needs an additional 4,000 hotel rooms nearby to be successful, but to persuade developers to build those hotels, the city would probably have to promise further tax breaks.
As city leaders work toward Plan B, they should think about the larger vision for the South Park area, where there is a growing residential and commercial community, and ask themselves if a bigger Convention Center serves that vision. We’re not saying it doesn’t, but it is certainly worth considering whether there are alternative projects or private partnerships that might make better use of the Convention Center itself or the land it sits on.