Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, middle, jokes with AEG President… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The ceremonial signing of agreements Wednesday to take the next step in landing Los Angeles an NFL team went off without a hitch even though a light breeze kept knocking over a large rendering of the hoped-for Farmers Field stadium downtown.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the City Council's vote last week to approve the project means that Anschutz Entertainment Group negotiators can speedily move ahead with the final step — landing an NFL team for the proposed new stadium.
It's also another step toward the continued revitalization of downtown, a "jewel" that still needs some polishing, the mayor said. With a new football stadium and a rebuilt Convention Center, more Angelenos will get reacquainted with the city's historic core, he said.
"This is not just about football," he said to a crowd of about 150 gathered under the hot sun at Chick Hearn Court near Staples Center. "People will come to downtown from every part of the city."
The $1.2-billion deal is now in the hands of AEG President Tim Leiweke, who is in private talks with NFL team owners to bring a team to Los Angeles. Villaraigosa said he met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York on Monday.
Those discussions are going well, the mayor said, and AEG is still on track to announce a team, or possibly two, by March. Los Angeles sports and entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, credited with dreaming up the stadium location on the back of a paper napkin, said last week's vote gave the deal legitimacy.
"The NFL now knows we are serious about brining a football team back to Los Angeles," said Wasserman, a booster and potential partner in the enterprise.
Leiweke recounted the long process of getting the project's approval, including an exhaustive environmental impact report. He sought once more to assure Los Angeles residents that their tax dollars would not be used to finance the deal.
"No matter how people want to spin it, taxpayers will not be at risk here," he said.
Project critics last week were handed ammunition when AEG owner Philip Anschutz revealed he was trying to sell the company. Leiweke reassured skittish council members that the stadium deal would remain solid, even with a new owner.
One prospective buyer is Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, philanthropist and minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Labor unions and business leaders back the stadium as a way to create thousands of jobs. Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said the jobs would provide work for thousands idled during the recession.
"Every single one of them is way above living wages," Durazo said. "They are good union jobs."
Although the comments Wednesday were all upbeat, the project still faces a lawsuit filed by anti-poverty activists who want AEG to contribute $60 million for affordable housing. They say the environmental impact studies of the project were inappropriately cut short.