A proposed $1.2-billion NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles secured crucial approvals from the City Council on Friday, a major milestone in efforts to return pro football to the city after a 17-year absence.
The action clears the path for developer Anschutz Entertainment Group to seek a team and proceed with planning for a 72,000-seat stadium on the southwest edge of downtown. But key hurdles remain, including AEG’s ability to strike a deal with the NFL, which has rejected past bids by Los Angeles business and civic leaders for a team.
The council voted 12-0 to approve an array of documents that pave the way for the stadium and an accompanying $315-million upgrade of the nearby Convention Center. City Councilman Paul Koretz called the plan “the economic development project of our generation.”
“This is probably the most important decision that any of us will make in our political careers,” he said.
Parts of the agreements were rewritten at the last minute after it was announced last week that AEG is up for sale. The news came as a surprise to many city leaders who have worked closely with the company on projects like Staples Center and the L.A. Live entertainment complex, near the stadium site.In a surprising twist, a billionaire investor who has signaled interest in buying AEG, showed up at the council meeting. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles physician, sat silently in the front row during the council proceedings. Next to Soon-Shiong was former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and next to Abdul-Jabbar was AEG’s chief, Tim Leiweke.
Leiweke assured lawmakers that the city’s “next partner” -– whoever takes over AEG -– will be committed to bringing in a football team. He said a yes vote on the stadium deal would show the NFL that “L.A. is now open for business.”
Leiweke said titles won by the Lakers, the Kings and the Sparks showed that teams can thrive in L.A.
“If you build a great home, they will come and they will win championships,” he said, adding that the city’s loss of the Raiders and the Rams in 1994 had nothing to do with the city’s fans. “This loss was not due to a loss of energy, passion, or support, but it was due to a lack of a good facility,” he said.
Leiweke has said he expects to stay at least another five years with the company.
City officials say additional language -- which allows them to block the stadium deal from being transferred to any entity that fails to meet the city's financial criteria, lacks experience in sports venues or has "character" issues, including a criminal background -- will protect the city if AEG is sold over the next few months.
None of the city's stadium agreements with AEG can be executed until the company secures a team.
But those reassurances drew fire from the stadium’s critics, who argued that council members had shown little interest in conducting a rigorous analysis of the project’s effects on traffic, parking, air quality, noise, artificial light and glare. Those issues “are being put off until after you make this decision,” said Barbara Schultz, the attorney with the Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition, which is suing over state legislation that favored the stadium.
“AEG says trust us. We don’t even know who ‘us’ is anymore,” she said.
After Abdul-Jabbar and former pro football quarterback Rodney Peete lauded the impact the NFL can have on a community, one critic decried the meeting as “sports hysteria.”
“Let them build another university, let them build a research hospital, let them build a museum,” said Stewart James of Panorama City.
AEG is hoping to secure a team during the NFL's team owners meeting in March -- the same month that any lawsuit against the project must be resolved. That would allow a stadium to open in 2017.