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Chief Tim Leiweke says AEG set on goal of L.A. stadium, NFL team

CEO Tim Leiweke has been on the defensive with business and political leaders who felt blindsided since the news broke that AEG had been put up for sale.

September 24, 2012|By Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times

Leiweke's climb led to Denver, where he became president of the Denver Nuggets and then head of the U.S. ski team. It was there that he met Anschutz, who lured him away in 1996 to become president of the Los Angeles Kings.

Leiweke came to L.A. with a three-year contract and an edict from Anschutz to build the Kings — which played in the Forum in Inglewood with the Lakers — a new arena. By 1997 he was in negotiations with city officials to build public support for a downtown stadium.

Some city leaders, particularly then-Councilman Joel Wachs, clashed with Leiweke in efforts to reduce taxpayers' financial risk and won concessions from Anschutz and his partners that allowed arena construction to go forward.

In early 1998, civic leaders decided to try to get the 2000 Democratic National Convention held in Los Angeles. Leiweke did his part by buttonholing President Bill Clinton at a party at the home of Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, his grandson Casey Wasserman recalled. The convention was held at Staples Center less than a year after it opened.

"He is full of big ideas," said Wasserman, now a sports agent. "This is a guy who came here to run a hockey team and ended up building Staples Center and L.A. Live."

Leiweke didn't build them on his own, of course. But his relentless persuading, promising and nudging made him the key actor in their creation in the eyes of many. Some grumbled out of earshot that he was arrogant and overbearing in his approach. But others quickly forged relationships and smoothed his path.

"He has a bit of P.T. Barnum in him," said David O'Connor, managing partner of talent agency Creative Artists Agency, which represents acts booked by AEG. "He's a great salesman and a bit of a showman."

Leiweke seems to enjoy the spotlight unlike his boss, Anschutz. Some who have dealt with AEG through the years say they have been irked by Anschutz's remoteness and occasionally by his involvement with religious and conservative causes.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes the downtown area, said he would rather deal with Leiweke.

"I was not a fan of Mr. Anschutz," Pérez said. "You don't want to move forward on major projects like Staples, L.A. Live and the football stadium without knowing there is someone in a decision-making place that is committed to delivering on everything that is an element to getting to yes."

Last year the Legislature approved special legislation intended to speed approval of the stadium.

Leiweke has vowed to be there for the kickoff of the first football game, perhaps as soon as 2017, and is already cooking up lavish visions of more downtown development on land AEG doesn't own.

On his desk overlooking L.A. Live he keeps a book full of architectural drawings of buildings, restaurants and stores he'd like to see connecting L.A. Live with downtown's financial district. The route would be in a pedestrian corridor along little-used Francisco Street, now a sea of asphalt and concrete.

"Farmers Field," he said, "is just the beginning."

This week may decide how far his downtown vision will get.

"Monday's meeting is important to go a long way, I hope, to calm people down and bring clarity," City Councilwoman Jan Perry said. She appears to be willing to work with a new AEG owner in what she hopes will be a long association.

"This may open the door for a new generation of NFL ownership, and that might not be a bad thing," she said. "We'd have new capital and somebody who is going to be around for a while."

roger.vincent@latimes.com

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