Will the NFL Really Transform Inglewood Into the Manic Pixie Dream of the Future?

If you grew up in Los Angeles, the name Inglewood was forever linked in your mind to the Tupac line "always up to no good," much as the humble beach city of El Segundo was known as a place where the guy in A Tribe Called Quest's debut single left his wallet

Never mind that Inglewood was a suburb of Los Angeles with 100,000 residents; never mind that it was home to the Great Western Forum and, until 1999, the Los Angeles Lakers; never mind that it contained both Hollywood Park Racetrack and Randy's Donuts. Tupac lumped largely working-class Inglewood together with Compton, Watts and the rest of South L.A., and so too did the rest of the world.

That all appeared to change last week when Inglewood became the future home of the St. Louis Los Angeles Rams, and maybe the Chargers or the Raiders, and above all, the biggest, most expensive NFL stadium in the world — an edifice that will be less an NFL stadium and more a gargantuan complex of football, special events, retail, office space, housing and God knows what else.

The thing will be built on the gravesite of the Hollywood Park track at a cost of more than $2 billion — possibly beyond $3 billion.

The project, allegedly to be completed in 2019, has set off a frenzy of speculation about what this means for the future of Inglewood, which will also be awarded a transit station stop on the brand-new Crenshaw Line light rail, set to be completed the year the Rams move in.

It's like the bastard love child of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and L.A. Live if it was raised by Rick Caruso,
It's like the bastard love child of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and L.A. Live if it was raised by Rick Caruso,
HKS Architects

Despite its many rundown areas, Inglewood has long been tipped as a city to watch. A year ago, Curbed L.A. named it the neighborhood of the year. But now that the NFL is set to bring its traveling roadshow of head injuries to town, speculation about the town's potential is heating up to near–West Adams proportions. 

Take a recent L.A. Times opinion piece by Erin Aubry Kaplan, who wondered, "Can Inglewood survive the NFL and gentrification?":

Gentrification has happened in Silver Lake, downtown, Echo Park, and it's happening rapidly in Highland Park. By no accident, those areas were low-income and considerably Latino, rather than black. Now gentrification is threatening black neighborhoods like Leimert Park — which is also getting a Metro stop — and Inglewood. The bitter irony of gentrification, one of many, is that the good, safe, thriving community that the original residents always wanted and worked toward finally seems to materialize once they've left.

Maybe wait until a few coffee shops open up before worrying about gentrification?

There's also this L.A. Times news story about real estate agents sniffing around the 'Wood:

Agents have not been shy to say they are near the stadium site — a nearly 300-acre multibillion-dollar project that also will feature office space, shops, restaurants and entertainment offerings. They are describing properties on the market in terms that take full advantage of the NFL's return.

"It is now official the Rams are coming back," one ad for a redevelopment opportunity boasts.

"Within blocks of the new stadium development," another online listing reads for a 5,500-square-foot retail building on Century Boulevard.

Agents say such appeals are working.

There is, however, some reason to skeptical of the Inglewood hype.

For one thing, stories like this are encouraged by the real estate agents and developers themselves, who of course stand to profit from any kind of buzz. 

And then there's the history of stadiums in urban areas. Take the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, an indoor basketball stadium that's losing money. Granted, the center is like half the size of the Inglewood stadium's information booth (or so I would imagine), but the point is that economic predictions about newly constructed stadiums are often wildly off-target.

Behold: the space city from Wall-E. Wait, no, it's the new NFL stadium.
Behold: the space city from Wall-E. Wait, no, it's the new NFL stadium.
HKS Architects

The inconvenient truth for Inglewood is that NFL teams play only eight home games a year, plus maybe a couple of exhibition games, which people don't really care about.

Under the best-case scenario, the Inglewood NFL stadium would get two teams, which would translate to maybe 20 NFL games a year, plus maybe five or six concerts a year. Only the biggest acts in the world can fill an 80,000-seat stadium; for slightly more modest performers, there's still nearby Staples Center, the recently refurbished Forum and even rickety old Dodger Stadium.

So we're talking about roughly 25 events year — a bump for the Inglewood tax base but probably not much of an economic stimulus on its own.

No, the real economic kick will come from the office space/housing/God-knows-what-else components of the project, and we really don't know the scope of that yet.

On its merits, the city of Inglewood seems ripe for some kind of renewal: it's really close to LAX, it's basically on L.A.'s upscale Westside if you look at a map, and it's still cheap to live there.

On the other hand, it's really close to LAX. Planes fly over every five minutes, and they're really loud.

It's also in South L.A., if Westside-adjacent. Kaplan cites areas like Echo Park and Highland Park as having recently gentrified. But they're a lot closer to the Los Angeles city center than Inglewood. They're also closer to more affluent neighborhoods, such as Los Feliz and Silver Lake. If you're some urban pioneer moving to Highland Park in 2016, you can rest soundly knowing that a trip to Intelligentsia is just a 10-minute car ride away.

Inglewood, by comparison, is a far-flung outpost.

It goes without saying that economic development is good for poor neighborhoods, and Inglewood could sure use it. But it's just a football stadium. It's not going to turn Inglewood into Silver Lake in a couple of years. 

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