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Church to Buy Forum in $22.5-Million Deal

Real estate: With closing set for today, Inglewood multipurpose arena would be first to be owned by an African American group.

December 29, 2000|JERRY HIRSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the state's largest churches plans to announce today that it has acquired the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, and will convert the storied arena into one of the largest houses of worship in the country while continuing to operate it as an entertainment venue.

Faithful Central Bible Church of Inglewood signed a $22.5-million deal to acquire the 17,500-seat arena Thursday. The transaction is scheduled to close today barring any last-minute glitches.

"Jesus said, 'Do business until I return,' and that's our plan," said Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, who heads the 10,000-member church.

Ulmer predicted that a schedule of sporting events, ice shows and concerts, mixed with religious revival conferences and crusades, "will make this one of the premier family gathering places in Southern California."

The Forum, on 29 acres at Manchester Boulevard and Prairie Avenue, will become the first and only multipurpose arena owned by African Americans, said Craig J. Walker, a financial advisor to the church and managing director of Entertainment Finance Associates. Faithful Central's membership is predominantly African American.

Moreover, it also will be the first time a church has purchased such a large arena, he said. It will be among the largest places of worship in the country.

At first, the church will use the building for its Sunday worship services. It will save other days of the week for the Los Angeles Stars ABA basketball team and other events. Eventually, the church plans to add a conference center and luxury hotel to the grounds.

Ulmer said the development will bring business and jobs to the community.

"This fits an age where religious organizations are becoming more involved in ministering outside of their traditional stained-glass walls," he said, adding that such a plan is a natural extension of "feeding the hungry and housing the homeless."

Ulmer believes the church will be able to market the Forum as a convention and conference site, especially for Christian-oriented events. "That was hard to do before because of the almost nightly use by a sports team," Ulmer said.

Though the church will target other religious groups, Ulmer said, it will seek bookings from business and community groups.

The church is buying the Forum from L.A. Arena Co., which also owns Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. Arena will remain the exclusive booking agent for sports and entertainment events at the Forum.

Timothy J. Leiweke, president of L.A. Arena's corporate parent, Anschutz Entertainment Group, said his company will "aggressively" market the Forum. With so many sports teams filling up dates at Staples, the Forum makes a good site for long-running family shows such as the circus, Leiweke said.

Faithful Central will fund at least $2 million of the purchase price, Walker said. A consortium of lenders led by Bank of America is funding the loan. The debt will be paid out of the Forum's operations and church funds.

Cushman Realty Corp. of Los Angeles was the broker for the transaction.

Leiweke said his company had been approached by several parties interested in purchasing the Forum. L.A. Arena decided to go with the church because of "the unique opportunity to do something that involved the community, their vision for the building and the support of the city."

Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt F. Dorn praised the purchase and the church's plans: "This is going to be good news for the city."

Dorn said the city wanted to see the Forum continue to operate as a sports and entertainment venue and believes the hotel will bring added tax revenue to municipal coffers. After the Lakers and Kings left the Forum two years ago, tax revenue from arena events fell from about $1 million annually to less than $400,000.

Dorn had objected to a proposal by Beverly Hills-based apartment builder Casden Properties Inc. to buy the property to develop housing because he feared the loss of tax revenue.

The Forum's future has been clouded since its high-profile sports teams bolted for the newer and fancier Staples Center. Its previous owner, Jerry Buss, sold the 33-year-old arena to L.A. Arena in a June 1999 deal valued at less than $20 million.

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