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L.A. city leaders support idea of new downtown NFL stadium

AEG President Tim Leiweke presents plans at a City Council committee meeting, and chairwoman of panel pushes for immediate study of financing, transportation and environmental issues.

January 19, 2011|By Lance Pugmire

At the first City Council committee meeting to consider AEG's proposal for a new downtown NFL stadium Wednesday, city leaders embraced the idea and moved to fast-track the project.

"We want all hands on deck," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, chairwoman of the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which listened to AEG President Tim Leiweke's presentation of his company's plan for a privately financed $1 billion football stadium attached to a renovated Los Angeles Convention Center. "The case to bring a team here is a great case."

Hahn recommended a working group headed by the city's chief legislative analyst Gerry Miller to immediately begin studying financing, transportation and environmental issues connected to the project, while also pushing for an independent financial analysis. Hahn will make those requests official in motions at Friday's full City Council meeting.

"The trust of the public is most important as we move forward," Hahn said during the committee meeting at City Hall. "People are losing their jobs, they're out of work. We want it to be a transparent process, with accountability."

Leiweke came promising a solution to the dire economic times, touting, "We are beginning a process officially today to bring forth a vision that will bring the NFL back to Los Angeles … a catalyst to the largest downtown development in Los Angeles, with 20,000 to 30,000 jobs created."

Spurred by conversations with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league owners seeking a new stadium, Leiweke said AEG's billionaire Chairman Philip Anschutz is behind the pursuit of bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1995, when the Rams and Raiders exited.

The planned retractable roof stadium would seat 64,000, with the ability to expand to 78,000 for a Super Bowl or Final Four. The Times has reported AEG is in talks with Farmers Insurance for a lucrative naming-rights deal. Leiweke also noted the Coliseum "is out of the NFL business."

Leiweke declined to say which NFL owners he regularly converses with and opted to avoid criticizing a rival NFL stadium project in the City of Industry. The San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams are thought to be possible tenants.

"We'll be bringing a team to L.A.," Leiweke said to committee members Hahn and Councilman Tom LaBonge. The NFL "encouraged us to jump in, they believe this is the best location.… There are one or two teams ready to move. Mr. Anschutz believes a team will come if we build it. At least one team will come. We wouldn't be acting if we weren't encouraged by those men."

The stadium project has not been officially submitted to the City Council, and local and state environmental impact reports could take up to a year to be completed, a city official said. If AEG were to get an environmental exemption, it still would have to complete an environmental impact report. The exemption would protect AEG from subsequent lawsuits challenging the EIR.

The project will require city approval of $350 million in bonds to demolish the Los Angeles Convention Center's West Hall and build a new hall connecting the existing South Hall to the stadium.

That would create a proposed 1.4 million square feet of exhibition space that would boost business at a slumping facility that one city official said ranked 15th in size among convention centers in the U.S. Also the current 2,600-space parking lot would be increased to 4,000.

Leiweke said the $350-million bond would be paid back with stadium ticket taxes — "like we already do at [AEG-owned] Staples Center," he said — and that AEG promised to make up any shortfall.

"There's zero risk to the general fund, no public dollars involved," Leiweke said. "It's that simple.… We are aware of the budget issues. It's a true no-risk."

John Semcken, vice president of Majestic Realty, which is overseeing the Industry project, argued in a statement released later Wednesday that the public would bear financial responsibility for the AEG NFL stadium project to proceed, with bonds still owed by the convention center.

"Saddling the city and the taxpayers … should be a non-starter for the City Council," Semcken said in the statement.

Convention Center officials said there is still $48 million in bonds owed, but Leiweke said the debt could be added to the $350-million bond and could also be paid back with the stadium ticket taxes.

Leiweke also downplayed L.A. traffic concerns, saying that AEG traffic studies found "you could've landed a helicopter on the freeway" on Sunday late mornings when NFL traffic would typically creep downtown to the Interstate 101/10 interchange. Leiweke said AEG also would fund rail upgrades to assist with stadium/convention center access.

Hahn said she was enthused by the "exciting, aggressive proposal" and embraced the idea of moving expeditiously, although Leiweke said AEG has not imposed a strict deadline as previously reported. He said the company "knows it's a process."

AEG spokesman Michael Roth added, "We're making progress, we're meeting expectations at this point."

There won't be a public discussion about any team moving to Los Angeles before the league resolves its expiring collective-bargaining deal with players. The current agreement expires March 1.

"This is not just about eight games and a Super Bowl," but for L.A. to be able to compete for conventions, Hahn said at the meeting. "The convention center piece is the key. … More hotel rooms, more tourism increase the general fund. Those discussions — how are we going to get there? — should begin now."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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