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Downtown L.A. is puttin' up a Ritz

AEG's Tim Leiweke is honored at a gala as the city welcomes a 54-story addition to its skyline.

January 15, 2010|By Cara Mia DiMassa

It's not every day that Los Angeles welcomes a new addition to its skyline.

And this week, the city did it in style with a gala for the 54-story Ritz-Carlton hotel-condo tower that is the centerpiece of L.A. Live and opens for business next month.

The guest of honor was Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG, which built the $2.5-billion L.A. Live and has been at the center of the effort to develop the area around Staples Center into a sports and entertainment hub.

The blue-hued tower is a big part of the plan. It's the first skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles since the early 1990s.

The governor, the mayor and five City Council members, as well as athletes, celebrities and philanthropists including Eli Broad and Casey Wasserman, were in attendance. Many of them publicly praised the man who they said has managed to remake the city's skyline.

The Wednesday event was part of a fundraiser for the City of Hope and marked the inauguration of the building's cavernous ballroom. It was also a chance for AEG to publicly acknowledge the companies and people that helped build the tower.

At the VIP party, held on the tower's pool deck and paid for in part by the Ritz-Carlton and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, servers passed trays of Diet Coke and Coke -- two AEG sponsors -- and Leiweke posed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

AEG has been a generous financial supporter of both political leaders and their causes, and both had participated in the building's groundbreaking in 2007.

Villaraigosa called the sports and entertainment district built by AEG, which includes both L.A. Live and Staples Center, "ground zero for the revitalization of downtown." Schwarzenegger praised Leiweke and AEG for "having the guts to go and follow through, and turn their vision into a reality."

The warm reception seemed to please Leiweke, who has been battling City Atty. Carmen Trutanich in recent months over issues including whether L.A. Live has too many electronic billboards and whether the company should pay more money to cover the costs of the Michael Jackson memorial service.

It was an evening heavy with hyperbole. TV host Huell Howser likened the evening to the 1928 opening of City Hall and described the building itself as a potent symbol of the California dream.

As guests posed with the city's skyline as a backdrop, businessmen and politicians helped light up the entire building for the first time. (It cost AEG $100,000 to illuminate the tower for the night.) Helicopters hovered nearby, waiting to capture a shot of the lit tower.

Later, down in the ballroom, Leiweke acknowledged many of the power players who had come out to honor him.

And he proposed, jokingly, that since there was close to a quorum with so many City Council members in attendance, perhaps they could work out a deal to reimburse the city for costs associated with the Jackson memorial. It's something that AEG has hinted for months it would do but has not yet been worked out. "We could do a quick session and agree to terms," Leiweke joked.

But his biggest laugh of the night came when he talked about his tangled relationship with Trutanich, who was not in attendance but said he had been invited. Leiweke said that after squabbling in the wake of the Jackson memorial, the men had been "getting along. Then my . . . brother went out and hired Pete Carroll," he said.

Leiweke's brother, Tod Leiweke, is chief executive of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, which recently hired Carroll from USC.

Power plays, it turns out, can run in the family.

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