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MIKE DOWNEY

Building for L.A.'s Future

August 19, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

Beginning in the 1999-2000 season--or, as I like to call it, the '99-00 season (because it sounds so cool that way)--a new arena will be home to Laker basketball, King hockey and any other big indoor event that comes to town, like roller hockey, roller football, roller tennis or Shaquille O'Neal on skates in "Kazaam on Ice."

It will cost one-fifth of $1 billion, will be named, oh, I don't know, something, Air France Arena or the Qantas Center (all the domestic airlines are taken) and will be built downtown, which, for those of you who have never been there, will prove, once and for all, that there is indeed a there there.

Personally, I can't wait.

I might set my calendar ahead, to make it 1999 a little sooner.

This new structure at 11th and Figueroa--easy to find, just down the street from the giant Felix the cat statue at Felix Chevrolet--is the best thing to happen to Los Angeles in a long time. It could help turn L.A. into an actual city for the 21st Century, as in: "Let's go into the city tonight." To quote the immortal words of the philosopher Petula Clark, when you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go . . . downtown.

By 2000, hey, you might even take a train.

(It's a long thing, with an engineer, that runs on a rail. You'll like it.)

I was thinking about old L.A. the other day, about everything that is disappearing, like Ciro's, Perino's, the Brown Derby, to make room for our millionth yogurt shop, video store or car wash, and about how Los Angeles needs a civic shot in the arm, something to make the city feel like a city. We need something more than a Hollywood sign, palm trees and Angylique billboards to identify our skyline.

We need something that would say L.A., the moment you see it, as the Statue of Liberty has come to symbolize New York, or as the Space Needle has symbolized Seattle, or as the Gateway Arch has symbolized St. Louis, or as the mansion of our king, who is still alive, by the way, has symbolized Memphis.

Here's hoping our arena doesn't look like some Wal-Mart.

If its architecture is distinctive, maybe L.A. will finally even have a landmark for films and picture postcards to show. The only unique structure in this whole town is that restaurant at the airport that looks like a scorpion. And I don't even know if that place has a name. I just call it That Restaurant at the Airport That Looks Like a Scorpion.

I feel for Inglewood, which has been a good home to the Lakers and Kings since the late '60s, putting up with a lot of nonsense in the process.

They must decide what to do with the Fabulous Great Western Forum now, whether to knock it down, spruce it up or hold 365 Neil Diamond concerts there a year, which would guarantee 365 sellouts. They also could invite the Clippers to play there, which would keep traffic flowing smoothly in Inglewood, without the slightest hint of gridlock.

A lot depends on whether Hollywood Park still lands that football team it has been looking for, and in turn that Super Bowl bid it has been looking for, because, if not, the old "Avenue of the Champions" is going to have to call itself the Avenue of the Occasional Horse Race.

I will miss the Forum. Maybe I will marry Jeanie Buss and live there.

Peter O'Malley apparently is still trying to decide whether to put up a football stadium and put up with neighbors' complaints, such as the Echo Park picket sign I recently saw that read: "Hey, Peter: No Mo Stadium." And the guy didn't mean naming it after a Japanese pitcher. He meant one park was plenty.

So far, I haven't heard any neighborhood protest with regard to the proposed Laker-King joint-effort joint, where the hockey team will be the landlord and the basketball team will pay rent, provided Jerry Buss has any money left after paying his starting center.

By 1999, the people of Los Angeles will have an arena as nice as the new ones in Boston and Chicago, where the mice no longer have a place to sleep, or the new one in Cleveland, which was built in Cleveland and not in some remote Ohio city that no one could find, even when the farmer gave you directions.

It's a wonderful thing, progress.

For $200 million, we get a beautiful new building where we can watch games, concerts and shows. That's only 80 million more than L.A. spent on one basketball player.

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