Inglewood's Forum aims to rock Staples rival with major renovation

A beloved but aging former heavyweight champ of the rock music world, the Forum in Inglewood, is making a comeback. Officials at Madison Square Garden Co. will unveil plans Tuesday for the historic arena that include a multimillion-dollar face-lift and a January opening with an iconic California music group.

In making its first business venture west of the Mississippi, MSG is wagering that the Forum can once again vie for the biggest names in pop music against a younger, larger and well-heeled opponent, Anschutz Entertainment Group's Staples Center.

The act that will kick off a new era for the Forum when it reopens Jan. 15: The Eagles, who will play three nights. The move pairs the quintessential Southern California rock group with a concert venue that's seen little action over the last decade.

PHOTO: New life for the Forum in Inglewood

One day last week, half a dozen cranes occupied the arena floor, which had been stripped down to the original concrete, as had the seating tiers above it. Ceilings and walls had been ripped apart for structural, electrical and plumbing upgrades meant to improve artist and fan amenities.

"There are plenty of venues in the L.A. market," Madison Square Garden Co. Executive Chairman James L. Dolan told The Times on Friday, "but none of this size that can accommodate artists like the Eagles, with multiple-day runs where the venue is completely tuned into the concerts that are going to be put on."

The inaugural booking signals the intense interest in the project by Eagles manager Irving Azoff, who also manages Christina Aguilera, Van Halen and Steely Dan. Azoff, former executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment and previously CEO of Ticketmaster before it merged with Live Nation, has a long professional and personal association with Dolan.

Both men are scheduled to formally announce details of the Forum's revitalization in the already highly competitive concert scene at a news conference at the facility. They are expected to be joined by members of the Eagles and possibly other musicians associated with the building's storied history.

Still, the Forum returns to the ring playing the part of the underdog.

When Staples opened in 1999, it yanked away the Forum's key tenants — the Los Angeles Lakers and the L.A. Kings sports franchises — while also landing the L.A. Clippers as well as the bulk of arena-level live music events.

That exodus of big acts from the Forum demonstrated the deep pockets of billionaire developer Philip Anschutz's AEG, which built and operates Staples as the anchor for the surrounding L.A. Live entertainment, dining and retail complex.

PHOTOS: Concerts at the Forum

The Forum, however, now has a powerful alliance with Madison Square Garden, which itself is nearing the end of a $1-billion makeover. MSG's owners in recent years have rehabilitated two other historic New York entertainment venues: Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre.

AEG officials have downplayed any sense of a serious threat to Staples Center's regional dominance. "Certainly every venue in Los Angeles has its own history," AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman said Monday. "We believe AEG's multibillion-dollar investment and our continued commitment to fans and artists will ensure that Staples Center and L.A. Live will remain Southern California's premier live entertainment destination."

But MSG officials are expressing unshakable confidence that the Forum will resume a place of prominence in the world of arena rock, which it helped invent after its 1967 debut, just six weeks before the opening of today's Madison Square Garden arena.

When it wasn't busy hosting basketball and hockey games, the Forum featured Led Zeppelin 16 times as well as performances by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Nirvana, Prince and dozens of other rock, pop, country and R&B acts.

To compete for attention with Staples, the renovated Forum's goal is to be the nation's largest indoor facility designed with music as its top priority. "When it was a professional-sports arena and a concert arena, it had to serve those two masters," Dolan said. "Now it's constant entertainment and there's no compromise."

PHOTO: New life for the Forum in Inglewood

MSG bought the Forum last year for $23.5 million from the Faithful Central Bible Church, which had owned it since 2000 but was largely unable to transform it into a revenue-generating property. MSG is putting more than $70 million into bringing it up to speed technologically and aesthetically, a potential advantage over the 14-year-old Staples Center. "The all-in figure is approaching $100 million," Dolan said, factoring in the purchase price and the building improvements.

In Inglewood, the project is seen as a source of community revitalization as well, a new source of jobs during the construction and revenue for the city that lost at least $800,000 a year in direct income from the Forum after Staples opened. MSG is guaranteeing the city at least $675,000 a year in ticket, parking and concession taxes once it's up and running again.