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L.A. football stadium plan has firms scoping out the neighborhood

The area along South Olive Street near West 11th Street, known as South Park, hasn't seen the growth experienced in other parts of downtown. But AEG's proposal is sparking interest.

March 27, 2011|By Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times
  • Stadium advocates say it would be good for business. Above, the L.A. Convention Center is reflected in the glass of Staples Center.
Stadium advocates say it would be good for business. Above, the L.A. Convention… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

Take a short walk away from the bright lights of Staples Center and the giant video screens above L.A. Live, and it becomes clear that the acclaimed revitalization of downtown Los Angeles is still a work in progress.

Here, along South Olive Street near West 11th Street, you'll find a smattering of merchants, including old printing shops and mannequin stores, but also a lot of abandoned storefronts guarded by locked metal gates.

This area is known as South Park, and apart from Staples Center and L.A. Live, it hasn't seen the kind of office development and loft conversions that have given other parts of downtown thriving commerce and a burgeoning nightlife.

But with the announcement that AEG wants to build a $1.35-billion football stadium and convention facility, some retailers and developers have begun scouting the neighborhood and sounding out commercial real estate brokers for opportunities.

The stadium, downtown boosters say, would be very good for business.

"Retailers we would normally only find on the Westside, New York and Beverly Hills are looking downtown, and they named the likelihood of a stadium as what brought them," said CB Richard Ellis broker Derrick Moore, who connects retailers and landlords. "Without the stadium, they would not be looking at downtown L.A."

Chain stores prospecting for new downtown locations include CVS and Walgreens drugstores and various large clothing stores, said Moore, who doesn't represent AEG. Sprouts Farmers Market and Fresh & Easy, two grocery chains, are also scanning the area.

At least four major hotel chains are contemplating a spot downtown, with their sights set on a spot near L.A. Live and the convention center, according to real estate brokers. AEG executives say they expect an announcement in April about a hotel to be built just north of L.A. Live.

The downtown stadium is far from a done deal. It must win approvals from local government and secure an NFL team. In addition, it is competing with a stadium plan by billionaire Ed Roski in the City of Industry.

If it does get the green light, no one is saying the stadium will help downtown become an urban mecca on par with Chicago's Michigan Avenue or San Francisco's Union Square. But some experts see it as a significant step.

"It would really be beneficial to the renaissance of downtown," said Paul Habibi, who teaches real estate classes at UCLA, while adding that "other events besides football would help tremendously."

Still, not everyone sees the stadium as beneficial to downtown's progress.

When they are not in use, football stadiums "suck energy out of the surrounding area," said Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning analyst at the Brookings Institution.

"They are just a bunch of blank walls staring at various streets. There is no reason to walk past them."

Combining football with convention business would help, but in Leinberger's estimation the country is oversupplied with convention centers. Downtowns grow best organically, he said.

"It's better to have a lot of little things going than one silver bullet that absorbs all your resources," Leinberger said.

AEG says it won't neglect the streetscape. Between L.A. Live with its outdoor plaza and the new event center, the developers are "knitting together a nice series of different types of spaces," AEG executive Ted Tanner said.

Urban planners point out that marginalized urban commercial districts seldom transform into hubs for retailers and restaurants overnight. Such revivals typically follow a pattern that starts with bars and nightclubs, followed by more upscale restaurants, drugstores and discount chain stores. Parts of downtown L.A. have reached that point, and mid-priced clothing stores are expected to follow as the next evolutionary step.

Downtown has long been a financial hub, with the biggest skyscrapers on the West Coast. More recently, civic leaders have shepherded construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Widespread conversions of obsolete office space to apartments has given downtown another asset — a worker population that doesn't abandon it for the suburbs at night.

Thanks to the Red Line subway and light-rail system, downtown also has a viable public transit system, which is a boon in attracting young adults to the area, planners say.

Moore, the real estate broker, says hip clothiers Urban Outfitters and H&M are scouting for locations, and that trend probably will continue with or without a stadium. Downtown's mercantile heart is at West 7th and South Figueroa streets, which is close to office towers, apartments, L.A. Live and transportation hubs. Retailer Target will open a store at the intersection next year.

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