As the legal fight rages over the billion-dollar arena the Clippers want to build in Inglewood, plans for the project are moving forward.
The Federal Aviation Administration determined last month that 37 applications covering the bulk of the proposed Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center pose no hazard to air navigation. The green-lighted structures include a hotel, parking garages, retail buildings and signage.
Nine additional applications are pending for the 900,000-square foot arena that would be the centerpiece of the privately financed project. The highest point of the structure near the intersection of West Century Boulevard and South Prairie Avenue would be 144 feet above ground and 235 feet above sea level, according to documents filed with the FAA.
A spokesman for the developers said they “remain confident” the arena will open in 2024. The lease the Clippers have to play at Staples Center expires the same year.
Though obstruction evaluations by the FAA are routine, the complex’s proximity to Los Angeles International Airport make the reviews more than another box to check.
The stadium for the Rams and Chargers that’s under construction across the street from the proposed arena came under FAA scrutiny in November 2015. The agency issued a preliminary report saying the sail-shaped structure is “presumed to be a hazard to air navigation” because of potential interference with radar tracking inbound aircraft to LAX.
The FAA approved the building in January 2017 after developers agreed to pay $29 million to install a secondary radar system at LAX to resolve the issue.
The arena, which is currently under environmental review and awaiting approval from the state to fast-track the project, faces hurdles unrelated to the FAA.
Most of them revolve around ongoing litigation with owners of the Forum. The Madison Square Garden Co. believes the proposed arena would “threaten the economic competitiveness” of their building and alleged Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. tricked the company into surrendering its parking lease for city-owned land where the arena would be built. Butts has repeatedly denied the claim.
That’s led to a legal battle between MSG, Inglewood and Murphy’s Bowl LLC, the Clippers-controlled company developing the arena, that hasn’t shown signs of resolution. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is among at least 28 people who have been deposed this year in connection with the case.
In the most recent twist, former Butts assistant Melanie McDade-Dickens last month revised much of her deposition testimony. The 148 changes — most significant adjustments such as “Yes” becoming “No” — included saying she witnessed the mayor tell an MSG representative the city-owned land could be used for a technology park. That supports a key claim by the company.
Inglewood moved to strike the changes by McDade-Dickens while her attorney wants to quash an effort by Murphy’s Bowl to depose her again.
McDade-Dickens had been on paid administrative leave from Inglewood since July 1, according to a court filing, because of a matter unrelated to the arena.
The next key date in the litigation is a hearing on a motion for summary judgment in May.
Two community groups also sued over the project; those cases are ongoing.
Most of the land where the arena complex would be built remains controlled by the city. Plans for the development include a 150-room hotel, offices for the Clippers, facilities for sports medicine and practice in addition to retail space.
The arena — with a striking, diamond-patterned roof that represents the shapes in a basketball net — will seat 18,000 people for basketball games.
“We’re on a path where we think we can build the arena, whatever happens in the litigation,” Ballmer told reporters last month. “We’re moving along. Certainly, suffice it to say, I think the other side is just trying to slow us down a little bit. But it’s another thing where we’re grinders.”