Stadium Schemes 

The secretive and expensive road to L.A. football

Wednesday, May 22 2002

It had all the celebratory air of a ribbon cutting last week when honchos from Staples Center shared the stage with the mayor of Los Angeles and a key councilwoman to announce plans to invest $300 million in a new football stadium on the south end of downtown.

Tim Leiweke, president of the entertainment empire owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, deemed the occasion “a bright moment in time,” and the public officials followed suit. Mayor James Hahn pronounced himself “really excited about bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles,” while Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district encompasses the destitute South Park neighborhood, proclaimed that “Downtown is back” and predicted that “The entire city will benefit from this investment.”

It was left to Casey Wasserman, grandson of MCA mogul Lew Wasserman and owner of the L.A. Avengers, Staples‘ bargain-basement arena-football tenant, to explain just how far the deal was from done. The league officials have expressed genuine interest, he said, but there’s still no football team signed up -- the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers are the most likely candidates. No site has been named, and the NFL has yet to commit the $150 million in financing that the stadium developers say they need to close the deal.

Related Stories

  • L.A.'s NFL Dream Won't Die: Garcetti Working Behind the Scenes to Land Team

    Eric Garcetti flew to New York last month to attend a weekend conference on innovation in city government. But while he was there, he asked his staff to arrange a last-minute meeting with Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL.Goodell was not able to meet in person -- weekends during
  • NFL to Inglewood? L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Seems Surprisingly Cool With That 3

    The news that the owner of St.  Louis Rams bought a 60-acre parcel in Inglewood last month may turn out to be just a negotiating ploy. But if things ever become serious in Inglewood, that will be bad news for AEG's still-lingering plans to bring football to downtown L.A., and for...
  • L.A. Late Show

    Only hours after the world discovered that David Letterman will retire from his perch at CBS' Late Show, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti fired off a letter to the network's chief, Les Moonves, asking him to relocate the New York-based program to L.A. when it relaunches under a new host...
  • Mayor Garcetti's Slow Start 14

    Last fall, Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a new website that displays statistics about city operations. Putting out such information, he says, is the most exciting thing he can do as a leader — and the riskiest. He believes that it will ultimately revolutionize how the public interacts with City Hall...
  • Summer Jobs

    Mayor Eric Garcetti got up before the cameras on Tuesday and made a big announcement. Thanks to a $1 million donation from Disney, the city will be able to meet its goal of employing 10,000 young people over the summer. But when asked for a breakdown of the fundraising, the...

Moreover, Wasserman said, the clutch of millionaires backing the stadium plan are depending on the NFL to designate Los Angeles as the site of at least two and possibly three Super Bowls within the next 12 years. In addition, Wasserman said, they hope to draft “one or both” of the city‘s major college teams to fill out a schedule that will require 32 dates a year to break even.

But this was not an occasion for doubts and caveats. The Memorial Coliseum, a facility renovated just six years ago with more than $100 million in public funds, was not a consideration, Leiweke said, as the NFL is simply not interested in the site. And disputes over public financing had already been resolved by the developers’ commitment to finance the project from their own pockets. “The controversy has been completely neutralized,” Leiweke said.

That was a remarkable statement from a man whose crowning achievement was the construction of Staples Center, which was nearly scuttled by public aversion to spending tax dollars on a private sports facility. In fact, as Leiweke described it, the new project depends on $100 million in public bonds to buy the land, a debt to be repaid out of sales and property taxes generated at the stadium over the next 20 years.

It was just such a financing structure that former Councilman Joel Wachs targeted when he vowed to stop Staples Center itself with a public initiative in 1997. Wachs only backed down when the developers -- principally Anschutz, through Leiweke, and Ed Roski, another partner in the proposed stadium -- agreed they would repay $58 million in land loans from their own revenues, not from tax proceeds.

But if the backslapping congratulations seemed a bit premature at the Staples Center news conference Thursday, that was only in keeping with the rapid-fire pace of disclosures last week. Developers and public officials were first stunned to learn that the deal was in the works, and then jockeyed for position to cash in on the half-billion-dollar project.

The weeklong disclosures about the stadium plans showed once again that when it comes to redevelopment in downtown L.A., city officials are prone to secrecy, as if they understand their schemes won‘t withstand public scrutiny.

The only public official with advance knowledge of the stadium plan, it turns out, was Mayor Hahn, who said he first learned that Wasserman and Leiweke were assembling downtown property as early as last December.

Hahn said at the news conference that he attended the Super Bowl in New Orleans in February in part to speak with league officials about the deal. He said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was encouraging, and said local officials there estimated that hosting the annual championship game brought the city more than $250 million.

But if Hahn was privy to plans for a major new project in the heart of the city, he decided not to share the news with other stakeholders downtown, allowing Leiweke and company leeway to make their initial moves in stealth.

Landowners in the South Park neighborhood learned of the project only when brokers for Anschutz moved to buy large chunks of property. “It came out of the blue,” one prospective housing developer in South Park said of an Anschutz bid on his property. “I went to the Mayor’s Office, the CRA, the Planning Department, the Department of Building and Safety -- none of them had heard anything about this.”

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Jay Z Grand Park Concert Is Official as Mayor Plans Announcement

    It looks like Mayor Eric Garcetti is going to officially announce that a two-day "Budweiser Made in America" festival is taking place  at downtown L.A.'s Grand Park. The mayor's office said today he " will make an announcement with Shawn "JAY Z" Carter, Supervisor Gloria Molina, City Council President Herb...
  • L.A.'s Top 10 Streets for Bicycle Crashes Revealed

    You're probably already aware that there's a hit-and-run epidemic in L.A., and that bicycling in a car-crazed capital like Los Angeles can be hazardous to your health. See also: Critical Mass Bike Ride Recognizes L.A. Hit-&-Run Victims But the nerds at the MIT Media Lab's Social Computing Group recently came up...
  • "Compton Division" Pimps Made Millions, Cops Say

    A trio of local pimps forced women to work the streets from San Diego to Las Vegas and beyond, cops say, and they allegedly made millions doing so. But now 31-year-old Robert Walker, 34-year-old Daniel Gunther, and 34-year-old David Sheffey, who called their crew the Compton Division, are behind bars, says...