Representatives from each of the neighborhood councils in Los Angeles Council District 11 were among the first Westsiders other than selected audiences to hear directly from the developer of a proposed new football stadium that has become one of the city’s hot-button topics this summer.
Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, gave a visual and verbal presentation June 27 of his company’s plans for downtown Los Angeles, which include expanding the current Civic Center and adding a football stadium to the complex.
“We will do this with as little an environmental impact to the quality of your lives as humanly possible, to withhold and stand up to our environmental commitments that we’ve made as a company and to do it without you having to pay a dollar,” Leiweke told the audience at the Mar Vista Recreation Center.
AEG representatives had unveiled their plans to community councils on the Westside earlier this month, but never before a large audience until the community meeting in Mar Vista.
One of the “leading sports and entertainment companies in the world,” according to its website, AEG has built the Staples Center, L.A. Live, the Home Depot Center and Club Nokia. It is owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl put the forum together so that his constituents of the 11th District could gather information as well as ask questions about the stadium/convention center proposal directly to Leiweke and other AEG executives.
“I am an advocate for transparency and community engagement,” Rosendahl said. “This proposal is a big deal, and residents and taxpayers deserve the opportunity to ask questions and scrutinize the proposal.
“I’m grateful that Tim is willing to approach this in such a grassroots manner.”
To that end, the councilman invited five representatives from each of his eight neighborhood councils to bring their opinions on the downtown plan to Leiweke. Representatives from Westchester-Playa, Del Rey and Mar Vista councils were in attendance.
Rosendahl, a former cable television host, served as the moderator of the town hall and let Leiweke and his associates do most of the talking and explaining.
The centerpiece to the redevelopment plan is the renovation and expansion of the convention center, which currently has over 720,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 299-seat theater, making it one of the largest in the nation.
The problem, according to AEG and others, is that the south and west halls are not contiguous, and the center has not been upgraded in over a decade. Currently, Los Angeles is rated number 15 in attracting convention business in the U.S.
When Los Angeles competes with large cities like Chicago, New York or Orlando, they all have convention centers that have contiguous space, making Los Angeles less attractive to potential clients, Leiweke said.
“This is about changing the convention business going forward, and putting (Los Angeles) in the top five,” the AEG executive said. “It’s about building five to six more hotels, and driving that business to downtown L.A., and driving the union business and putting people back to work.”
Leiweke also sought to clarify that the proposed football stadium, Farmers Field, will be built by AEG without any public money.
“We are building the football stadium – period,” he stated. “We will pay for it out of our own pockets. We are not asking the city for anything.
“We will privately finance this out of our risk capital.”
The company CEO said AEG would pay for stadium improvements as well as for the operation of Farmers Field.
AEG hopes to attract an NFL team as well as showcase high profile collegiate and professional sporting events.
The city will own the stadium and AEG will spend approximately $45 million for design drawings for the convention center, where Farmers Field would be located.
The convention center, however, will be financed with public funds, and Leiweke conceded that during his presentation. Anschutz’s company is asking the city to float a bond to finance the costs of the renovation and expansion of the building.
Originally tabulated at $350 million, Leiweke announced at the town hall that the bond would now be in “the high $200 millions.” The convention center will remain in the city’s hands after construction.
“There will be no costs to the city on the bonds,” Leiweke said.
Questions have been raised, as they were at the Mar Vista meeting, about the possibility of AEG backing out of building the stadium and leaving taxpayers with a huge debt.
Leiweke pledged that AEG would post a construction guarantee once construction of the west hall of the convention center begins. “The construction bond will guarantee that Farmers Field will be built,” he stated. “Secondly, we will not push dirt until we have a team lease that is part of this transaction.”
The sports and entertainment company plans to guarantee advertising contracts at the convention center for the term of the bond as well as a property tax assessment on Farmers Field.
The city’s share of the property tax on the stadium, plus the advertising and land lease will equal the bond payments, Leiweke claimed.
David Voss was one of the members of the Westchester-Playa contingent who was selected to speak. Voss, who was appointed by former Mayor James Hahn to the West Los Angeles Planning Commission seven years ago, feels that the city is getting a very good deal with what AEG is proposing.
“The fundamental underpinnings of the deal are twofold,” Voss told The Argonaut before the town hall. “The city does not have the money to maintain the convention center. It was designed poorly and is in need of extensive repair.
“If (AEG) is willing to make the commitment by posting a completion bond, we end up with a new and improved convention center,” he continued. “Our city does not have the resources to fix our convention center and if someone else is going to step in and make it possible, I think that’s a good deal.”
Mark Redick, a past president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, said he went into the meeting with an open mind. But he was certain there was one thing that he did not want to hear AEG say.
“I don’t want public funds paying for a private venture,” Redick asserted.
Leiweke said approximately 3,300 jobs would be created by the development of the civic center/stadium, many of them in the construction trades, which have been hit hard by the recession.
Upon completion of the convention center, it will be approximately one million square feet.
Redick, a hotel executive, inquired about the kinds of hotels that AEG planned to bring to the downtown area. “Is this a ‘we’ll build it and they’ll come?’” he asked.
Leiweke responded that Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn have been announced as hotels that will be a part of the project.
Without AEG, the costs of renovating the convention center would be $80 million, according to Leiweke.
“In its current condition, isn’t (the convention center) going to be a burden on the city’s general fund if this project does not go forward?” Voss asked at the town hall.
The meeting ended with former City Councilman Nate Holden, a Marina del Rey resident, challenging some of Leiweke’s figures and claiming that AEG had reneged on a payment agreement after the Staples Center was built, a charge that the executive vigorously denied.
Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista, has pressed AEG officials on a number of fronts throughout its negotiations with the council.
“Having this town hall was part of my due diligence to my constituents,” the councilman said after the meeting ended. “This is something that the entire city should be engaged in, and I know that on this and other civic matters my constituents are always fully engaged.”
While negotiations have not been especially contentious, Rosendahl was displeased with Leiweke’s earlier assertion that a deal had to be finalized by July 31.
“I was very offended by that imaginary deadline,” the councilman told The Argonaut. “I don’t like threats and I don’t like to be forced to work under the cloud of a threat.”
The council’s ad hoc committee, which includes Rosendahl, will meet with AEG again Thursday, June 30.
If the deal is passed by the council, AEG representatives say construction would begin June 1 next year.