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Attracting more conventions would be a key to success of downtown L.A. football stadium project

An NFL franchise is the central focus of AEG's plan, but it's unclear that the stadium would bring in all the conventions and hotel building that AEG envisions.

March 16, 2011|By Seema Mehta and Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times
  • AEG pictures an NFL stadium, to be named Farmers Field, on public land adjacent to the L.A. Convention Center, a $1.35-billion project.
AEG pictures an NFL stadium, to be named Farmers Field, on public land adjacent…

For Los Angeles' proposed downtown football stadium to succeed as envisioned, its promoters need to attract more than an NFL franchise like the San Diego Chargers. They need to win over teams like David Glanzer's.

Glanzer is part of a crew that scouted — and passed on — Los Angeles as a new venue for Comic-Con International, the comic book, film and pop culture convention that draws more than 100,000 people and $60 million to San Diego each year.

Football is the public focus of a bid by Anschutz Entertainment Group to add a downtown stadium to its portfolio of arena, hotel and theater venues adjoining the Los Angeles Convention Center. But the massive project, using public land, also rests heavily on a hope that a simultaneous overhaul and expansion of the center itself will lift the city into the top ranks of the nation's conference destinations.

"What's driving this vision is the Convention Center.... It doesn't work right," said Timothy J. Leiweke, the AEG chief pushing the stadium deal.

Some convention experts and Los Angeles tourism officials are optimistic that AEG's plan to move a wing of the Convention Center to create room for the stadium would make Los Angeles more attractive to event planners. But others said the project would have to overcome a number of substantial hurdles.

It remains unclear whether the stadium proposal would be profitable without a big increase in convention business. Citing pending City Hall negotiations, AEG personnel declined to discuss it with The Times.

As city officials begin weighing the fine points of the $1.35-billion proposal, attention is focusing on three interlocking elements: AEG's upbeat assumption about its ability to attract major new convention business; whether the project can trigger construction of thousands of close-by convention hotel rooms; and the financial backup to AEG's pledge that taxpayers will not be on the hook if the whole plan goes bad.

Leiweke's pitch is that reworking the Convention Center and integrating the new stadium into the operation could double the number of conventions lured to the city, adding an average of more than one new event per month.

However, AEG and convention officials set a less ambitious goal last week, telling a city panel they hope to add four to six new conventions a year. The key will be getting the right type of events, an AEG spokesman said, noting that about one-third of the Convention Center's yearly revenue now comes from just two gatherings.

Project backers said they expect more conventions to stimulate construction of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of hotel rooms within walking distance of the Convention Center. "We are at a competitive disadvantage. We drastically need more hotel rooms downtown," said Mark Liberman, president of LA Inc., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. He noted that Anaheim, San Diego and San Francisco have three to six times as many hotel rooms immediately around their convention centers.

New economic activity would generate taxes from the project area that would help pay off $350 million the city would borrow to move the Convention Center's West Hall, replace parking and clear space for the privately financed stadium. AEG has promised to cover any shortfall in city repayments and says the public will benefit from tens of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending.

Such a multi-faceted concept could work, according to some experts, developers and convention industry officials. AEG's recent opening of two hotels at nearby L.A. Live already has helped, drawing new conventions, one of which is this summer's Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference with 15,000 attendees.

But others warn that luring the most lucrative business gatherings away from other highly competitive cities could be a tall order.

Comic-Con's reasons for staying in San Diego touch on many of the obstacles Los Angeles faces — too few hotels in downtown and a lack of contiguous exhibition space — as well as San Diego's hard work in retaining the massive gathering.

Comic-Con is not the only group reluctant to move. "Our members have told us they like the campus feel of the Anaheim Convention Center," said Scott Robertson, marketing director for NAMM, formerly the National Assn. of Music Merchants, whose convention is among the top 25 in the world and draws some 90,000 attendees.

The most coveted large conventions, such as medical groups, often rotate around the country and may return to a venue only every three to five years, said Steven Spickard, a sports and event center consultant for 30 years who has advised Los Angeles and other large cities. To get the 16 new conventions a year Leiweke has suggested, the center might need to land 45 to 60 major conventions on a recurring but not annual basis, he said.

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