Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa poses with Magic Johnson following… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Tough questions began to emerge Thursday at City Hall over some of the promises and forecasts being used to promote development of a National Football League stadium on public land in downtown Los Angeles.
Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl wrote city negotiators and the head of a special panel reviewing the $1.4-billion proposal asking for details on a key promise: that the stadium would dramatically improve the city's ability to attract major events and conventions.
The move comes as a blue-ribbon commission created by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prepares to hold its first meeting Friday in North Hills.
The stadium, which would have a retractable roof would be built next to the Los Angeles Convention Center. The center is widely regarded as underperforming, in part because of design flaws that turn off exhibitors. Stadium developer Anschutz Entertainment Group says its proposal would increase business by creating more contiguous and expanded event space at the Convention Center, providing an ongoing financial boon of millions of dollars annually in new economic activity. And they pledge to do so at no cost to the city.
Rosendahl, who has voiced some of the strongest City Hall skepticism about the project, laid out what he called "vital questions" that need answers before the stadium can be approved. In addition to being built on city land, the development would rely on revenue bonds issued by the city.
"Cities have a history of entering into deals to build football stadiums without doing their due diligence," the councilman wrote. "The result often places unnecessary strain on the city's budget and diverts money from core services."
Among the issues he raised:
• Could stadium construction limit future expansion options for the convention complex, as it seeks to remain competitive with other top conference destinations?
• How would the new exhibition space on the stadium floor compare in terms of marketability with more traditional configurations elsewhere "where all the space is within the convention center?"
• How can the construction, including demolition and relocation of one major convention hall, occur without causing disruptions and potential loss of revenue from existing event customers, and who would make up any losses?
• How would football demands on stadium usage potentially conflict with such things as the November Auto Show and convention exhibitors that may need to set up and tear down during weekends when the stadium is in use?
"Those questions in my mind are critical," Rosendahl said. "My bottom line, my main goal is where does the city of Los Angeles financially get impacted, or does it not?"
The letters were hand delivered Thursday afternoon to the offices of Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, council President Eric Garcetti, First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who chairs the council's budget and finance committee. Rosendahl requested written responses from Miller and Santana.
A spokesman for Garcetti said he expects such questions to be addressed.
"While we must be aggressive in pursuing opportunities to create jobs, we must also be careful to ensure taxpayer dollars are protected," said spokesman Yusef Robb.
AEG said negotiations remain in the early stages, and such queries would be answered as they proceed.
"We recognize that the City Council and the Mayor will ultimately need to get comfortable that the public's interests are properly served by any proposed transaction," the company said in a statement, adding that the developers would be "carefully listening to issues and concerns raised by the City and the public and striving to address those in a mutually satisfactory manner."
Santana said he had not seen the letter and did not have an immediate comment. Beutner and Miller did not respond to requests for comment.
Beutner is heading the mayor's blue-ribbon committee, which is holding its first meeting Friday in the San Fernando Valley. AEG will give its first public presentation about the proposal, and business leaders and community groups have been invited to discuss the potential fiscal effects.
Rosendahl said his letter was the first of five or six he planned to write outlining questions about the stadium proposal in coming weeks. The next missive, to be released next week, will inquire about the financing of the proposal.
Under AEG's plan, the city would issue $350 million in bonds to tear down and rebuild the Convention Center's West Hall. AEG has pledged to pay for the bonds, but Rosendahl has questions about how the money would be paid back, if doing so would divert funds that would otherwise pay for police and other essential city services, and what kind of guarantee AEG will offer to insure that the city is not left on the hook for the bonds.
Rosendahl said he hoped that the responses to his questions shed light for taxpayers and his council colleagues.
"You and I will both have a better sense of if it's a good deal here or not," he said. "There's a lot at stake."