AEG’s grand plans for a football stadium lack one thing — backing from the boss
The stadium renderings are impressive. The sightlines are cool. And it’s fun to imagine how an NFL game in the heart of Los Angeles might look.
But we’ve seen dazzling L.A. stadium designs before. We’ve seen dozens of them over the last 15 years, in fact, and the nation’s second-largest market still doesn’t have an NFL team.
What really matters this time is where Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz stands on all of this, and whether he’s ready to invest the kind of money necessary to build the elaborate events center that his top executive, AEG’s Tim Leiweke, envisions. The stadium would be where the West Hall of the Convention Center now sits, next to Staples Center.
And so far, Anschutz is not 100% on board.
“Not yet,” said Leiweke, AEG’s president and chief executive, who did not attend his company’s news conference Wednesday evening to unveil the renderings of three competing design firms. He stopped to answer some questions on his way to his car at LA Live. “He’s getting there. This is a work in progress, and we’ve never made any bones about that. It’s always been a work in progress.
“We had to get everything lined up in order for [Anschutz] to give us the green light. We’re working on it, and we’re making progress. But we’re not there yet.”
Leiweke has a high-risk decision to make: AEG will have to start spending some real money in the next month or so — something in the neighborhood of $5 million to $10 million — to dive into the entitlement process on the stadium site, and to convince Sacramento to give the downtown site the same environmental exemption that the City of Industry stadium proposal received. Even with that exemption, AEG would have to do a full environmental-impact report on the stadium but would be protected from subsequent lawsuits that might slow down or derail the project.
The issue is: AEG would have to spend that money without an ironclad guarantee from the NFL that a team is coming to L.A., although the league wants to be back, under the right circumstances. The league can do some work behind the scenes, of course, but it cannot turn its attention to the L.A. situation until it resolves its labor dispute with the players, and that could stretch into the fall.
Asked what kind of assurances he can receive from the NFL, or from a team that might want to relocate, before the league has a new deal with its players, Leiweke said: “I’m not going to get into any of that, but what I can tell you is I think we can get Mr. Anschutz comfortable by March if we can get people to the right place. We know we’re not going to have a team locked in by March, everyone knows that. That’s not what we’re saying, nor is it what we need.”
So which franchise is most likely to relocate? This could change, of course, but right now it’s the San Diego Chargers. Among the other relocation candidates are the usual suspects: Minnesota, Jacksonville, Oakland, St. Louis and Buffalo.
Rest assured, this stadium wouldn’t be built on speculation that a team was coming. Before moving an ounce of dirt, AEG would get some sort of promise that a team — whether it was identified or a team to be named later — would be soon to follow.
In the interim, AEG has to move forward on faith, spending a lot of money and time on a project aimed at solving a Rubik’s Cube that has frustrated a long line of influential power brokers.
“That’s Mr. Anschutz’s decision and risk, and if he gets comfortable we can do it,” Leiweke said. “We’ve done that before — we didn’t have anybody booked in the [new high-rise] hotel [next to Staples] when we decided to build that, either.
“Mr. Anschutz understands the risk, and that will be his decision, and that will be based in part on ongoing conversations that we have with the NFL.”
Even without the full commitment of Anschutz, the concept of a downtown stadium has gained significant traction among NFL owners and executives. As one team executive put it, the proposal has “entered the league’s bloodstream” in a way that other proposals have not, in large part because of LA Live and the sprawling development in that area. Many in the league tout the downtown option as an ideal one-stop-shopping site for Super Bowls and the like.
It was L.A. businessman Casey Wasserman who came up with the concept of replacing the West Hall with a multipurpose, retractable-roof stadium that would have dual use as convention space. He first plotted it with his kids’ blocks, then drew up a rudimentary version on his computer. Eventually, he brought the idea to Leiweke.
Wasserman said a multiuse facility connected to the Convention Center is the “only option that solves the riddle to get an NFL team back to L.A.” He said that’s because the downtown concept — which would not just be about football, but year-round events and conventions — would be the only way to generate enough revenue to: A) entice a team to move, and B) finance a stadium.
It’s almost impossible to build a consensus on this in L.A., and the competition between downtown and Industry is starting to get nasty. In an interview with the Orange County Register that ran last weekend, John Semcken, Ed Roski’s point man on the Industry proposal, called Leiweke “a bad guy” and said he would be unable to get the stadium built.
Leiweke has long said a downtown stadium would be privately financed. Roski’s team has argued the downtown stadium would be prohibitively expensive and would require a huge financial commitment by taxpayers.
Just as AEG began its news conference Wednesday, Semcken released an e-mailed statement: “Flashy renderings can’t disguise AEG’s call for taxpayer dollars at a time when California is broke.”
Apprised of the statement, Leiweke said: “Once again, zero taxpayer dollars, and these guys should stop scaring the public. That’s terrible. And by the way, everyone sees right through them, including the league, and they ought to stop it. Because they’re not doing themselves any good by lying like that, and we ought to just take the rhetoric down and let the process play out. It’s not personal, and they shouldn’t make it personal. And that’s the last we’re going to acknowledge any of their statements.
“This is just about trying to get the NFL back in L.A.”
And, as far as Leiweke and other downtown stadium backers are concerned, that road first leads through Denver.
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