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NFL Stadium Plan Outlined

Downtown: The arena would be built near Staples Center using city help. Backers say L.A. could lure one or two football teams.

May 16, 2002|MITCHELL LANDSBERG, ALAN ABRAHAMSON and SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A business group trying to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles revealed its plans Wednesday for a new, 64,000-seat football stadium near Staples Center that will require financial assists from the city and the league.

Officials of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG, said they will ask the city to issue bonds of up to $100 million to acquire 20 acres of downtown land for the stadium that the owners would repay over time.

From the National Football League, the group said, it will seek a $150-million loan and a promise to bring three Super Bowl games to Los Angeles.

In return, the city could get at least one and possibly two NFL franchises as the league tries to fill a vacuum in the nation's second-largest media market, according to AEG officials, who built Staples on a similar financial model.

With the exploratory plans sprinting forward on several tracks, AEG officials provided the most detailed description yet of the stadium and the deal to build it. In an interview with The Times, AEG President Tim Leiweke said the stadium would be built without any burden on taxpayers--a departure of sorts for the NFL, which has strongly encouraged public-private coalitions in the construction of stadium complexes for its teams.

Mayor James K. Hahn "has made it clear to us that there will be no risk to the general fund, no risk to taxpayers, and we said we heard that loud and clear," Leiweke said. He said the stadium would cost $400 million to $450 million to build.

Los Angeles has been without an NFL team since before the 1995 season, when the Rams departed for St. Louis and the Raiders for their ancestral home, Oakland.

Putting a team back in L.A. has become one of the league's top priorities--in part to tap the huge television market in Southern California, in part because the league would like to get L.A. back in the rotation for Super Bowls.

The stadium deal is contingent upon bringing a team to L.A. Speculation has focused on the San Diego Chargers' moving to a new Los Angeles stadium, but Leiweke said half a dozen current NFL teams may be contenders.

The Chargers and one other team have initiated discussions with the developers, he said. He declined to name the other team.

Asked Wednesday about the league's interest in seeing a team in L.A., NFL spokesman Joe Browne said: "We are the National--underline national--Football League and Los Angeles is the No. 2 market in the nation. That seems to be a question with an obvious answer."

The stadium would be within a redevelopment district that was given final approval by the City Council on Wednesday. Within that district, the city's redevelopment agency has the power to condemn land and force people to sell.

The AEG project envisions the city's use of eminent domain to secure some of the land needed for the stadium. Ninety-five percent of the parcel is now parking or warehouse space, Leiweke said.

Although no private homes or apartments would be condemned, he said, one "blighted hotel" sits in the stadium's path. AEG has been quietly buying up land in the area for the last several months under a different name, he said, but has not yet acquired all the land it would need.

AEG officials declined to identify the precise site of the proposed stadium, saying only it would be close to Staples and within walking distance of a Blue Line light-rail station at Pico Boulevard and Flower Street. If "everything was magic," Leiweke said, the stadium could open in time for the 2005 NFL season. Leiweke stressed that developers have not yet focused on a particular team. The group hopes to secure three Super Bowls within a 10- to 12-year period after the stadium opens. AEG has also held talks in the near future with UCLA and USC about playing at the proposed downtown stadium, although Leiweke acknowledged that USC is unlikely to abandon the Coliseum, which adjoins its campus.

Casey Wasserman, owner of the Arena Football League's L.A. Avengers and a partner in the stadium group, said it also could serve as a venue for international soccer matches, motocross, concerts and other events. With one NFL franchise, he estimated that it would be used 32 times a year; with two franchises, about 40 times.

One criticism of football stadiums is that, compared with basketball arenas or baseball stadiums, they are in use relatively infrequently, and therefore not as effective as an economic stimulant. Leiweke said that although his company is dedicated to making a profit, not serving as a civic booster, he believes the stadium would play a role in reinvigorating downtown.

At this preliminary stage, Leiweke and others involved with the project acknowledged, a slew of economic and political hurdles remain to be cleared.

But, he said, AEG, the corporation founded by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, sees reason for cautious optimism. And, after a five-hour meeting last Thursday in New York at which the project was discussed in detail with the league, the NFL is optimistic, he said.

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