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Leiweke says taxpayer funds won't be used for NFL stadium in L.A.

'We're going to do the right thing,' the AEG chief tells residents skeptical about financing plans for the $1-billion facility proposed for downtown L.A.

February 09, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • The citys never going to have to pay a penny  and were going to guarantee it, said Timothy J. Leiweke, AEG president and chief executive.
The citys never going to have to pay a penny and were going to guarantee it,… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

The head of the entertainment conglomerate seeking to build a National Football League stadium in downtown Los Angeles shot back at skeptics Tuesday and reiterated his pledge that "not a penny" of taxpayer money would be spent on the mega-project.

"The city's never going to have to pay a penny — and we're going to guarantee it," said Timothy J. Leiweke, president and chief executive officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is behind the $1-billion stadium plan.

"It's easy to take shots at this," said Leiweke, who seemed taken aback at public apprehension that taxpayers could be left footing the bill — despite AEG's vows to the contrary. "Will everyone just take a deep breath and have a little faith that we're not going to lie to people? We're going to do the right thing. Calm down....There's no tricks. There's no risks."

City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who has urged caution on the stadium plan, said Tuesday that detailed studies on the fiscal, environmental and traffic ramifications of the stadium proposal were needed.

"I appreciate [Leiweke's] continuing clear commitment that this proposal will not cost a penny to taxpayers," Krekorian said. "But I, as a member of the City Council, need to analyze this beyond the developer's commitment."

A formal stadium proposal should be presented this week, Leiweke told reporters after a news conference meant to drum up support for a proposed streetcar line downtown. But questions afterward focused not on the streetcar but on the stadium deal that has already been embraced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others.

The issue of public subsidies for corporate-owned stadiums and arenas has been a source of contentious debate nationwide for years. Policy-makers have to weigh the projected benefits — such as expanded business, tourism and tax revenues — against the costs to taxpayers.

Several council members have already voiced reservations at a time when the city is facing a fiscal crisis that could result in additional layoffs, furloughs and service cuts. As part of the stadium deal, the city would lease land to AEG and issue $350 million in bonds for a renovation of the adjacent convention center. Leiweke vowed to make up any financing gap if revenue from the stadium and a rebuilt convention center fall short.

"When the proposal gets there, everyone's going to take a deep breath and realize: There is zero risk to the taxpayer," Leiweke said. "This is people trying to scare people. And it's a shame."

The project, Leiweke said, would be a boost for the beleaguered construction industry, where, he said, unemployment has reached 30%. "And if people think that's going to be solved by sitting here and throwing rocks," he said, "they're wrong."

While Los Angeles still lacks a football franchise, Leiweke said the NFL has reacted enthusiastically to the stadium proposal. "They love L.A.," he said of the league. "They want us to get this done."

According to the AEG executive, the L.A. project would be the largest private stadium investment in league history.

"Almost every other community in the world would be throwing parades," Leiweke said.

The AEG chief 's comments followed release of a new study estimating that construction of a streetcar line in downtown Los Angeles would generate 9,300 jobs, $1.1 billion in development and $24.5 million in additional annual tourism and consumer spending.

Business and civic leaders are backing the proposed 4-mile street car loop, which would connect the Bunker Hill arts and finance district to Staples Center, the convention center and the proposed new NFL stadium.

The $125-million street-car project — a throwback to the transit lines that crisscrossed the city before the advent of the freeways — would be built with federal and local funds, backers say, including a new tax assessment on downtown property owners, including AEG, which owns Staples Center and the adjacent L.A. Live entertainment complex . AEG backs the street-car idea and the tax, said Leiweke, who raised the novel prospect of a Super Bowl in Los Angeles with much of the crowd arriving via mass transit.

"It's ironic," Leiweke said of the street-car plan, "that we want to go back to something that was the mainstay 70 years ago."

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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