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Frustrations Endanger Stadium Plan in L.A.

Pro football: Leiweke says downtown coalition close to withdrawing from the process.

June 08, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Recent threats of legal action, public rancor and stepped-up competition from the Coliseum have so frustrated a group looking to build an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles that it is "close" to pulling out, said a key member of the coalition.

Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, said Friday he plans to meet with his fellow coalition members in the coming days and weigh whether to end the process.

"I think it will take a couple of weeks to reach a consensus within the group," Leiweke said.

He added that Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns Staples Center and is pivotal to the NFL deal, has become disenchanted, particularly considering he had to be talked into spending millions of dollars on a football stadium.

"He's never wanted to be in a position where we were getting leveraged," Leiweke said. "That was always his No. 1 concern.... I always assured him that I wouldn't let that happen. If we got to a point where suddenly this became a huge political battle, we'd bow out."

Although there were indications the stadium push is still inching forward--AEG dropped off detailed renderings of the proposed stadium at Mayor James K. Hahn's office Friday--another member of the coalition, Casey Wasserman, said the likelihood of building a privately financed, 64,000-seat stadium adjacent to Staples Center is "less than it was three weeks ago."

The latest setback was a decision earlier this week by the Coliseum Commission, which allotted as much as $1 million to promote their venue as an NFL site. Members of the downtown group see the Coliseum as an unworkable alternative. They say that, instead of enticing an NFL team to relocate, it simply clouds the picture in L.A. "It's crazy that we can't speak with one voice in this community," Leiweke said.

Advocates of the Coliseum say the only voice that counts belongs to whichever NFL owner wants to relocate and decides to choose the Coliseum as his team's new home.

"The one thing a team is concerned with is: What are the economics for them?" said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum. "We want to take this money and prepare credible financial proposals and projections for teams to show them how great they would do in this particular facility."

Among the major obstacles facing the Coliseum is how to pay for a $400-million renovation, particularly when no developers are lining up to do so. Lynch said he trusts the financing plan created in 1999, when the Coliseum was vying for the league's 32nd team, and said he is confident developers would eventually emerge. The Coliseum has not presented a proposal to the league.

The apparent unraveling of the downtown proposal highlights how difficult it is to get a major project completed in L.A., which has been without an NFL team since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

Earlier this week, AEG received a letter from the City of San Diego hinting at legal action if the group tried to woo the Chargers before they trigger their escape clause in their Qualcomm Stadium lease. "We assure you that we have no intention of interfering with the contractual obligations of the Chargers or any other NFL team," Leiweke wrote in his response to the city.

In another snag, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last month voted to sue the city, arguing that a redevelopment plan that would ease the way for a new stadium ultimately strips tax revenue from the county. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the suit has nothing to do with the proposed construction of a new stadium, however, and spoke with Leiweke on Friday to reiterate that.

Regardless, Leiweke said the rapid-fire developments have taken their toll.

"You have some business people who believe there's a better idea for South Park and the land there," he said. "You have council people writing op-eds and attacking us. You have lawsuits from the county, and people accusing us of wanting a subsidy for billionaires. We didn't want any of that. We were trying to do the right thing.

"I don't want to whip up controversy. I don't want to use political chips on this. And I don't want to develop enemies because we're trying to do the right thing."

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