The Inglewood City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve an 80,000-seat stadium at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack, jump-starting the effort to bring an NFL team back to the area after a two-decade absence.
After almost four hours of presentations and discussion in front of a weary crowd, Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. hailed the agreement as "the best financial arrangement in the history of stadium deals in this country."
"We need to do the will of the people and we need to do it tonight," Butts said just before the vote.
When the measure passed, 5-0, Butts told the room: "Now we can celebrate."
"We're on our way!" an audience member shouted.
Dozens of others jumped from their seats in jubilation and started chanting: "L.A. Rams, L.A. Rams."
Developers on the project include St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the Stockbridge Capital Group.
The vote capped six frenzied weeks, from the project's public unveiling to the approval without a public vote. A ballot initiative to add the stadium to existing plans to develop the site was certified earlier this month after organizers collected 22,183 signatures, twice the number needed. Inglewood had the choice of putting the project on the ballot in June or letting the City Council approve the plan, which includes a mixed-use development sprawling over 298 acres.
"We're going as fast as we can," said Chris Meany, senior vice president for the Hollywood Park Land Co., which controls the property. "We've got a whole bunch of architects and engineers working on this."
An economic impact report commissioned by the city estimated the privately funded stadium with open-air sides and a clear retractable roof could be the most expensive in U.S. sports history: $1.86 billion.
Although the developers plan to start construction on the stadium by December, the return of professional football to the country's second-largest market after years of failed plans and false hope is far from certain.
Last week, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders introduced another option to bring back the league when they announced plans to build a privately financed $1.7-billion stadium on the site of a former landfill in Carson. The teams, however, pledged to continue negotiations for new stadiums in their current cities.
Meanwhile, St. Louis is mounting an aggressive effort to retain the Rams built around a $900-million stadium, including about $400 million in state financing, on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The Rams, which left L.A. in 1995, shifted to a year-to-year lease at the Edward Jones Dome last month, the latest move in a long-running dispute over the facility's condition.
No NFL team, however, has filed for relocation.
The Inglewood City Council's vote on the project, which was announced last month, is a critical first step to separate themselves from the rival efforts.
Forty-five minutes before Tuesday's meeting started, the Inglewood council chambers were jammed to capacity.
"We'd be out there tomorrow with our shovels if they'd let us," said Tom Bateman, president of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams.
At least 50 people signed up to address the council about the stadium. The vast majority encouraged the council to immediately approve the project.
"It's going to put Inglewood back on the map and make it the City of Champions once again," longtime resident Michael Benbow said.
Just five speakers voiced concerns. One of them, Lynette Lewis, said Inglewood residents have heard these types of promises about developments before.
"I'm sick of looking at the pretty pictures that they draw for us," she said. "At some point in time we'd like to have insight to what's in this contract and what we get out of it as residents."
A decade from now, the stadium will boost Inglewood's budget by as much as $18 million per year, Debby Kern, a consultant hired by the city to analyze Hollywood Park's financial projections, told the council.
Most of the revenue would come from a 10% tax on tickets to events at the stadium.
The consultants' study projected the average ticket to cost $140 per game. That would have been the highest average price in the NFL last season.
The only risk for Inglewood in the project, Kern said, is if the team doesn't sell enough tickets.
"You have to get people in those seats," she said.
The facility projects to host 10 NFL games each year plus eight major non-football events such as the NCAA's Final Four. The project also includes a 6,000-seat performing arts center, parks, hundreds of thousands of square feet in retail and office space and up to 2,500 homes.
In 2013, Kroenke approached Terry Fancher, Stockbridge Capital's executive managing director, about adding a stadium to the company's existing project at the Hollywood Park site.
Kroenke wanted to try again. The billionaire real estate developer purchased 60 acres of land in January 2014 next to the 238 acres being developed by Fancher. That provided the first public hint of a potential stadium project.
For the moment, the NFL is watching from the sidelines.
The league has said for years that the return of a team to L.A., the stadium site and all other major relocation decisions will be subject to a vote of team owners. Those votes require a three-quarters majority of the 32 teams to pass.
The NFL recently formed the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities, made up of six owners, to evaluate stadium opportunities.
The drafting of a ballot initiative to approve the Carson project is complete and will be made public shortly, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
Using an initiative allows the developers to bypass the lengthy environmental review process in a competition in which time is of the essence.
In the coming weeks, Carson2gether, a community group formed to support the stadium, will start gathering the 8,041 signatures needed to place the stadium on the ballot. The Carson City Council could follow Inglewood's lead by skipping a public vote and adopting the initiative.
Following Tuesday's vote, Butts dismissed any concern about Carson's effort.
"When you're running a race and you're ahead, you don't look behind you," he said.
Any opponents of the Inglewood plan, dubbed the City of Champions Revitalization Project, now have 30 days to file a referendum to force a public vote.