So much has been said and written about the current efforts to build a new football stadium in Los Angeles, and one of the missions of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams has been to keep fans updated on the latest news. Well, Monday, June 27th, we decided to see for ourselves as a packed crowd came to the Mar Vista Recreation Center in West LA for a town hall meeting on the proposed Farmers Field.
LA City Council member Bill Rosendahl, who in the past has been on the record as skeptical of the proposal, nonetheless was professional and gracious in his opening remarks, in particular addressing his constituents, who come from the communities of Brentwood, Marina del Rey, Mar Vista, Palms, Pacific Palisades, Playa del Rey, Venice, and Westchester who were the night’s target audience.
Local reporters, bloggers, and news crews were also on hand as Rosendahl yielded the floor to Tim Leiweke of AEG, who then launched right into his presentation. Tim started off by noting that he and his family live in Los Angeles, and that the planned Farmers Field had the potential to make a major impact for all of Southern California.Accompanied by a very detailed PowerPoint presentation, Leiweke outlined how Los Angeles has fallen behind small markets like Omaha and Oklahoma City in terms of convention space. The cornerstone of the proposal was not the Farmers Field stadium itself, but rather the construction of a new West Hall at the LA Convention Center, which would be directly connected to the South Hall and would straddle Pico Boulevard.
Built in 1971, the existing West Hall would require an estimated $80 million in renovations just to bring it up to current convention standards. Its quality in comparison to as well as its relative distance from the South Hall has made exhibitors more reluctant to be placed there during major events.
The current AEG plan would benefit Los Angeles by building a new West Hall first before demolishing the old West Hall, which would be the site of the new football stadium. This would allow the LACC to continue operating without interruption due to construction or potential loss of convention business due to a reduction in exhibitor space.
Once the football stadium opens in September 2016, the upgraded convention center will boast over 1.1 million square feet in exhibition floor space, a total that would vault Los Angeles into the top five locations in the country for convention business. Leiweke compared Farmers Field to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, site of next year’s Super Bowl, which was built as part of a major expansion to the Indiana Convention Center complex.
AEG is asking the city for bonds to be issued for the replacement hall, and in a new development, Leiweke asked for a figure below $300 million, which is down from the $350 million requested previously. This change in the proposal will now have AEG paying for and building two parking garages rather than asking the city to fund their construction. AEG would then operate the garages and use the receipts to pay off the bonds. Lieweke also noted that the property tax on Farmers Field would match the bond value. A completion bond would also be obtained that would guarantee that the stadium would be completed once construction began.
Additionally, the project would create between 20,000 to 33,000 construction and permanent living wage jobs, and Leiweke noted the recently-opened Ritz Carlton Hotel at the site. Should the project go through, Leiweke said, half a dozen other hotel chains will be interested in building new hotels nearby.
In regards to environmental issues, Leiweke spoke about Staples Center’s strong record on global sustainability, and that AEG would be working with environmental groups as they worked towards completing a full Environmental Impact Report. Unlike the City of Industry proposal, Leiweke said that Farmers Field was not looking for an outright exemption and wanted a fair process, while also trying to protect AEG from questionable lawsuits that would derail the project.
When completed, Farmers Field would not only very likely become a regular venue for the Super Bowl (seven Super Bowls have previously been held in the LA/Southern California area). With a retractable roof, the facility could also host the Final Four, World Cup soccer, and numerous other high-profile sporting events. Additionally, business with major exhibitors would also follow suit as Los Angeles would again become one of the country’s top convention destinations.
After completing his presentation, questions came from the audience through speakers preselected from the local communities. Here, Leiweke was engaging and able to handle tough questions with informed and well-articulated answers. There were many positive statements from citizens, but also some pointed debate over the economic impact the project would have. Leiweke was vigorous in advocating the economic benefit of AEG’s efforts and there were many representatives of union labor on hand who were vocal in their agreement. He also was able to take on questions from an adversarial viewpoint, such as when former LA City Councilman Nate Holden (who famously had a press conference in front of the Coliseum in 1998 advocating a Raiders return) came to dispute AEG’s track record on creating revenues from the Staples Center.
Leiweke said that AEG is already spending $45 million on spec to get the project ready to go once they receive a memorandum of understanding from the LA City Council. But the approval is the first of two that will have to happen before the project starts becoming a reality. The second of which is to have an NFL franchise agree to move and sign a long-term lease on Farmers Field before AEG would “push dirt.”
Now on to what the members of Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams want to really know…
In terms of what franchise would possibly come to Los Angeles, Leiweke said that he has been in close contact and cooperation with the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has given AEG specific direction on what teams they were able to talk to. Though he would not mention any teams by name, he did say the teams that have been spoken to have stadium issues that are not likely to be resolved under current conditions.
In a question addressed specifically to him about the prospect of the Minnesota Vikings moving, Leiweke said that there had been contact, but that it was a matter of consultation for AEG (which operates Target Center in Minneapolis) as plans appear ready to move forward on a new stadium for the Vikings in Arden Hills, a suburb of Minneapolis. Lieweke made certain to point out that the proposed Minnesota plan involved $600 million in taxpayer funds and was in stark contrast to AEG’s privately-funded effort that involved no taxpayer money.
Coming away from the evening, it was hard not to be impressed by Tim Leiweke’s determined advocacy. He was energetic in presenting the project and vigorously defended it against detractors who questioned the financial benefits. It’s not hard to see why AEG’s proposal has gotten the attention of the National Football League, and why it looks increasingly likely that this may represent LA’s best chance to bring back football.
Following the meeting, we had the opportunity to meet several people from AEG. We were very clear about who we were and our goal of bringing the Rams back to Los Angeles. We were able to share with them Los Angeles’ historic football legacy, and how much of it was created by the Rams in their 49 years in the Southland. While they were quick to say that they couldn’t promise that the Rams would one day play at Farmers Field, they were very appreciative of what we were doing and thanked us for our supportive comments about the project.
If any of you fellow Rams fans live in the City of Los Angeles, please do not hesitate in contacting your city council member and urge them to approve the proposal. It is important to be pro-active as citizens as we all seek the return of the Rams to their home here in Southern California.