I went to brunch a few Sunday mornings ago at Louie's, a place that I will unironically describe as a gastropub. My Sunday rituals usually consist of visits to the farmers market and worrying about deadlines. So I was surprised to find, bellied up to the bar at the ripe hour of 11 a.m., a line of folks dressed in jerseys of the New Orleans Saints.
Who dat? indeed.
Louie's is one of many L.A. bars that on Sundays look like they've been airlifted from other cities. I'll be damned if I know anyone in L.A. from New Orleans. And yet, if you look hard enough, you'll find a bar for every team. Actually, you don't have to look hard at all. Here's a list (it's a partial list at that -- some teams have more than one local "headquarters").
Such is life in a city that is a) full of transplants; and b) bereft of its own team.
I grew up in the Los Angeles of the Raiders and Rams. My father and I even made a few intrepid journeys to the Coliseum each season to see the Raiders beat up on someone and to watch Raider fans beat up on each other. But then 1995 came and the teams went and, to be honest, I wasn't exactly crushed. Neither were many other people in Los Angeles.
Among L.A.'s many oddities is its relative indifference to pro sports rivalries. I'd no sooner wear a Ravens jersey in Pittsburgh than I would a meat vest in a wolverine lair. But I'd wager that L.A. is the only city in the country where you stroll down the street unmolested and unnoticed wearing a hat or t-shirt of any major league team in the country (excepting, perhaps, the San Francisco Giants). It's just one (superficial) example of our famed diversity.
Of course, as everyone in Los Angeles knows, many rich and powerful people have been trying to correct our football deficiency for quite some time. At last count, at least five stadium projects -- the Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, something in Irwindale, something at Dodger Stadium, and the fictional Farmer's Field at the L.A. Convention Center (snarky commentary by Morris Newman here and myself here) -- have been proposed by different developers. No one has yet proposed a floating stadium off Santa Monica, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's in the works.
This week we got the most promising news of all: Stan Kroenke, owner of the St. Louis (nee Los Angeles) Rams, bought part of the former Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood last year. On Monday, he announced a partnership with Stockbridge Capital, the owner of the rest of the former race track site, to develop an NFL stadium. Stockbridge is already developing a roughly 200-acre mixed use master-planned fantasia (it was the subject of one of my first articles for CP&DR, when the project was owned by Wilson Meany Sullivan). The stadium would be, to Kroenke's and Stockbridge's credit, privately funded.
The entire project must be approved via a city ballot measure, for which Kroenke and Stockbridge are gathering signatures. Folks in Inglewood, a blue-collar city whose star is already on the rise, are giddy about it. Adding a football stadium would be a natural fit. It would be roughly the size of the racetrack and, though the uses would be more intense, it would likely have fewer events than the racetrack did.
This plan seems realistic one yet because, unlike the others, it has the advantage of being attached to an actual football team.
I'm just not sure if I, or L.A., wants that. Our city's culture has evolved endearingly in the NFL's absence, embracing all those other teams and becoming very good at yoga. To our collective credit, we have refused to pay the extortionate amounts of money that other cities have paid in order to appease their teams.
I love civic pride and I respect the excitement of football. That's all good. But the people of Inglewood, and football fans around the L.A. metro, need to remember that huge institutions that promise local economic development -- think Walmart, which Inglewood voters thwarted in 2007 -- do not conjure revenues out of thin air. Proponents cite $1 billion in economic development if the Rams move to Inglewood. But these things can easily be zero-sum games, especially when profits ultimately get shipped out of town.
Many of the dollars that would go to the L.A. Rams will be dollars that don't go to Louie's, Bru Haus (Steelers), Mom's (Packers), Sonny's (Patriots) and O'Brien's (Giants), to mention just a few places that are a lot cozier than anything that will be built in Inglewood. Even St. Louis fans have a watering hole: Malecon. We can do better than to wear the same jerseys and cheer in lockstep so that some magnate or company, be it Stan Kroenke or AEG, can reap tens of millions of dollars each year. We can have our fun, eat our brunches, and drink our bloody Marys in places that seat fewer than 60,000 people. In other words, I'd rather give my money to a local barkeep than to a global brand that pretends to be a nonprofit.
Unfortunately, if the Rams don't come to L.A., Missouri may still lose, fiscally at least. Four days after Kroenke cryptically announced his Inglewood deal, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon conveniently presented a plan for a new 64,000-seat stadium on the banks of the Mississippi. Of the estimated $900-ish million cost, 40 percent would be borne by the state.
But that's Missouri's problem. Ultimately, I'd rather let St. Louis have its team and its stadium. "Build it and they will come" -- one of the most overused cliches in land use -- referred to apparitional baseball players, not to football fans or to anyone else. We in L.A. have plenty other places to go and other things to do.
Rams fans, I'll see you at Malecon some Sunday morning.