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Pitfalls and Promise In Downtown L.A. Stadium

Paul Shigley on
Dec 29, 2010

A National Football League team could be playing in downtown Los Angeles in less than five years.

So says Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the development company owned by Phil Anschutz that wants to build a downtown football stadium.

Leiweke is pitching the stadium as an extension of the Los Angeles Convention Center that could be open 50 days a year for conventions and other big events, not simply for 10 pro football games. He says the development will be privately funded, but that he expects to get the same CEQA waiver that state lawmakers granted to developer Ed Roski Jr. for a proposed football stadium in Industry. The proposed stadium would generate a great deal of other investment in downtown Los Angeles with 25,000 new jobs as the upshot, according to Leiweke. He also promises a "green" stadium that would need little additional parking because of the proximity of the region's expanding transit system. (Our friends at The Planning Report recently reprinted portions of a presentation Leiweke gave to the Valley Industry and Commerce Association and which you may read here: http://www.planningreport.com)

My initial reaction is to call BS. First, I'm skeptical of the potential design because I don't want to see another L.A. Live--another AEG project--in the same neighborhood. We've been very hard on L.A. Live because it's an exclusive, anti-urban project in the downtown of the nation's second largest city. Second, I don't believe the football stadium will go forward without public subsidies of some kind. Fee waivers, tax abatements, free infrastructure, something will be expected, and we all know how eager elected officials are to do favors for the NFL. Third, we shouldn't get in the habit of exempting massive projects from state law simply because they involve sports. If anyone can afford to play by the rules, it's Phil Anschutz and the NFL. Fourth, there's a grand and historic football stadium already in place less than two miles away. It's called the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It's the only stadium to host two Olympic games, and it has been the home of USC's pro football team forever. For reasons I don't understand, the NFL thinks it is above the Coliseum.

All that said� I love the idea of a downtown football stadium. Seriously.

The biggest drawback to the proposed stadium in Industry is its overwhelmingly suburban nature. It would be one more gigantic attraction to which everyone would drive in an area that already has soul-crushing traffic congestion. And the stadium would not have a friendly relationship with anything around it other than the proposed retail and entertainment complex that was also exempted from CEQA.

A football stadium at the south end of downtown L.A. could be a great urban project. It could further activate a rebounding part of the city that is close to hotels, dining, nightclubs and services. There's already good transit service and people would use it if AEG truly doesn't build a ton more parking. Making the stadium an extension of the Los Angeles Convention Center would be a brilliant stroke, as the convention center is an underused facility that can't handle the biggest conventions.

The possibility also exists that the stadium would force L.A. Live to open up, because AEG is going to want to create inviting connections between the stadium and L.A. Live's restaurants and hotels.

I'll be the first to concede the difficulty of working an 80,000-seat football stadium into a city's urban fabric. If the stadium is walled off, physically or virtually, it becomes a dead zone. Also, I question whether a facility that's open even 50 days a year would be enough to trigger development of a bunch of new hotels and other amenities, as Leiweke indicates. Even if he is right, I wonder if downtown L.A. would not be better off with some new high-rise apartment buildings and a couple more supermarkets.

Yes, the project has myriad pitfalls, but I'm getting off track. This is a project that has great promise. It's a potential game changer (pardon the pun) for Los Angeles that deserves serious consideration. Now, let's make sure everyone gets a look at the details before some backroom deal is done.

� Paul Shigley

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