Why are we not surprised? Turns out a memo to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proves that he was made aware of a downtown stadium proposal as early as March 2009. Journalist Ron Kaye, who unearthed the document, is calling it “Antonio's Dirty Little Secret” — and he's not talking about a TV newscaster.
Why is it an issue? Well, the folks who are advancing the proposal, Anschutz Entertainment Group, act like it came out of the blue in fall and have noted the urgency of the plan: L.A. AEG boss Tim Leiweke has even given the NFL a March deadline to give us a team (or else).
But more importantly the memo shows …
… that you, the public, were the last consideration in this.
It smacks of back-room dealing. Such major plans — AEG wants to tear down the city-owned Convention Center West Hall for a 72,000-plus seat stadium and possibly take over Convention Center operations as part of the deal — should be vetted and evolve IN PUBLIC. It's your property. It's your city. Your City Council will have to approve this.
The memo from Deputy Mayor Robert Ovrom notes “there are many advantages and challenges associated with the possibility of locating an NFL on the site of the Convention Center's West Hall … “
The document indicates that an architectural firm was already working on seeing if the site's footprint was big enough for an NFL stadium and concludes that indeed it is.
It notes that Casey Wasserman, a partner with AEG boss Leiweke in the proposal, wanted to meet with the mayor, but it's not clear if they ever did meet.
The stadium plan's project manager, Tim Romani, told reporters at the December unveiling of architectural concepts for the venue that “we met [with AEG] for the first time in October on this project. Tim said we need to get going.”
Interesting. The Los Angeles Times first published rumors of a stadium plan in April.
We were once admonished in late 2010 about even calling the downtown stadium a “plan.” It was simply an idea, we were told.
City officials, meanwhile, brought up the idea of giving away the Convention Center to a private entity, under the concept that a private profit motive could ultimately send more dollars to taxpayers, in late 2009, long after Villaraigosa was made aware of the plans for a stadium on Convention Center property, at least as far as we can tell.
What's more, even as Villaraigosa appeared to have known about the plans (unless he doesn't read memos he gets), Villaraigosa, other city officials, and AEG honchos continued to try to drum up business for the Convention Center.
The city tried to woo the fabled Comic Con convention, possibly knowing a big chunk of its Convention Center could be a construction site. It successfully wooed Microsoft to hold its annual pow wow in L.A. too.
Additionally, source told the Weekly Thursday that the Majestic Realty, the company that has a competing proposal for an NFL stadium in industry, held meetings with the mayor starting two-and-a-half years ago to keep him abreast of the development because he's a regional leader.
So Villaraigosa could have known about both projects in early 2009.
So all of a sudden there's a rush to get this deal done by March? Sounds like the public was invited to this movie only for the last act.
(We reached out to AEG and the mayor's office for responses. A mayoral spokeswoman said she had not seen the memo but would take a look and get back to us).