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L.A. May Get Sweeter Deal on New Arena

Development: Builder of proposed downtown sports complex may offer to cover some taxpayer costs, sources say.

November 01, 1996|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Developers of a proposed sports arena in Los Angeles have been looking at ways to sweeten the deal by reimbursing some taxpayer costs, sources close to the talks confirmed Thursday.

The possible changes in the deal with the city are part of the reason why negotiations have dragged on for more than two weeks after the City Council's deadline to vote on the deal, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The enhanced deal would pay some expenses the city would incur by issuing $60.5 million in bonds to acquire and clear land for the arena at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and for a hoped-for later adjacent development including shops, restaurants and a hotel.

City officials estimate that taxpayers would have to repay $4.5 million to $6 million annually during the 25-year life of the bonds if the full project--and the economic boost supporters expect it to provide--do not materialize. If revenues from the project do not cover the bond payments, the money would have to come from the city's general fund, which pays for police, parks and many other municipal services.

"We are working really hard with city negotiators to find ways to make the deal more attractive to the city," a source on the arena side of the talks said Thursday. The source expressed confidence that the details can be resolved within the next few days.

Word of the restructuring comes as negotiators continued to work well past the Oct. 15 deadline that arena developers had insisted on. Officials in Inglewood and the private owners of Hollywood Park racetrack there, who are vying with Los Angeles for the arena, had said they needed to know by then. Arena developers have also said they must have a decision soon in order to complete preparations and required environmental reports in time for a Sept. 1, 1997, groundbreaking and the opening of the arena in time for the National Hockey League season that begins in fall 1999.

On Thursday, however, Inglewood officials said they have extended their deadline in hopes of landing the new arena. Wherever it is built, the arena will house the Kings hockey team and the Lakers, who currently play at the aging Forum. Inglewood is fighting to keep both teams there.

A source close to arena developers said they can live without a decision from Los Angeles for two more weeks or so "as long as we continue to see daylight" in the negotiations.

Earlier this week, Councilwoman Rita Walters, whose 9th District would house the arena, told a downtown public affairs forum that the agreement, when finalized, will go the council's Ad Hoc Sports Arena Committee for at least one public hearing and a "thorough airing" before the committee decides on it.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Joel Wachs and Nate Holden, the only two lawmakers to oppose the project, have kept the pressure on negotiators to try to finalize the deal.

On Thursday, Wachs said he will introduce a motion at today's council meeting that will call for restructuring the deal along the lines of what he considers a model arena project in Portland, Ore. Wachs said he does not know about any deal enhancement efforts, but he has said that he would support the arena if taxpayers got more out of it. A day earlier, Holden called for a review of city costs associated with providing traffic controls .

As proposed late last summer by arena developers, headed by Kings owners Edward Roski and Philip Anschutz, city taxpayers would provide the land--including a parcel now occupied by the Convention Center's North Hall--and the developers would build and operate the $200-million sports complex and keep all the profits.

The city would get little direct revenue in return--about $1 million a year from taxes on the arena. But supporters say the arena would bring new business to the under-booked Convention Center and help revitalize downtown.

Times staff writers Deborah Belgum and Richard Simon contributed to this report.

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