A coalition that launched a drive to bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles on Friday abruptly announced that it has ended efforts to build a privately financed football stadium near Staples Center.
Tim Leiweke, president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, said the investors were unwilling to risk millions of dollars amid fractious local political infighting and an aggressive push by boosters of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to compete for a National Football League team.
The withdrawal significantly reduces any chance Los Angeles will get an NFL team in the foreseeable future. The venerable Coliseum stands as the obvious alternative for any team considering Los Angeles. But the league now appears to have dismissed that option.
The turnaround came one day after the group met with downtown business leaders and civic activists to detail for the first time the four-block site in the South Park area where it planned to build the stadium.
Although it had the backing of Mayor James K. Hahn, the downtown stadium plan had also drawn strong criticism from government officials and others who feared that taxpayer funds would ultimately be used to help pay for the $450-million, 64,000-seat facility.
The tenor and intensity of the criticism had blindsided investors, backed by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz, who along with Leiweke played a key role in the building of Staples Center.
"We just didn't want to go through an ugly political process on this issue," Leiweke said.
The Anschutz group's withdrawal illuminates once again the divisiveness that makes it difficult to build--or even take the first steps toward building--a football stadium in Los Angeles acceptable to local interests and the NFL.
Just last week, the Coliseum Commission decided to allot up to $1 million to promote its venue as an NFL site--a move the Anschutz group claimed was particularly bewildering because the league has signaled it is no longer interested in the nearly 80-year-old facility.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as recently as last month said that the Coliseum is not an option.
Tagliabue was not available for comment Friday. But NFL spokesman Joe Browne said, "We've been down that road before and we have yet to see a viable stadium plan for an NFL team at the Coliseum."
The position of some of the league's 32 owners was pungently summarized by Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens, who said of the Coliseum: "Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing."
Turning the historic landmark into a state-of-the-art facility with posh suites and club seats would cost about $400 million.
Pat Lynch, the Coliseum's general manager, has said he believes that a financing plan created in 1999, when the Coliseum was vying to land the league's 32nd team, can be revived.
But skeptics say that financing plan is overly optimistic, noting that it is contingent upon receiving a $150-million subsidy from the NFL and the emergence of a developer willing to come forward with the money to underwrite the project. So far, no one has expressed interest in the job.
Coliseum proponents on Friday refused to be portrayed as spoilsports.
"I don't think we caused this," Lynch said of the Anschutz group's withdrawal. "This is a free country. The better deal should always win."
Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who also sits on the Coliseum Commission, was out of the country Friday but said through a spokesman, "The fact that this is all it took to collapse the deal just proves it was not ready for prime time. It's a failed attempt to build a stadium in search of an excuse for that failure."
The Rams and the Raiders, who left Southern California before the 1995 season, have called the Coliseum home, the Raiders as recently as 1994.
And Coliseum advocates insist that with the right proposal, the Coliseum would once again be embraced by the league.
The Coliseum was considered the front-runner in the 1999 race to land an NFL expansion team. But Los Angeles lost that competition to Houston and Texas businessman Bob McNair, who paid a $700-million franchise fee.
Lines have long been drawn in the conflict between the Coliseum and downtown groups.
Months ago, Leiweke said, he had notified key Coliseum backers of the plan to build in South Park. He also told them that the competition would push the Anschutz group out of the picture--unwilling to let the NFL, or league owners, play one site against the other.
Friday's development looms as a potential setback for Hahn, who said he has urged the Anschutz group not to give up on the South Park plan. He also suggested that they might be back: "What I heard from Tim is they're going to sit back here for a while and let things play out. If folks at the Coliseum or Rose Bowl or somewhere else want to come up with a real proposal, they're going to let someone else play for a while."