Crowded meeting on downtown stadium

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A standing-room only crowd filled the Los Angeles City Council Chamber today as the city’s Planning Commission began reviewing an environmental impact report and development agreement for a proposed downtown football stadium.

“There’s going to be a lot of complex issues,” said Bill Roschen, the commission’s president, signaling that the discussion was likely to last all day.

The city Planning Department in April released a 1,750-page draft environmental impact report on the proposed $1.5 billion project, with thousands more pages of appendices, analyzing the project’s predicted effects and listing efforts that developer Anschutz Entertainment Group says it would take to limit negative impacts of the 72,000-seat football stadium and new convention center hall.

It hopes to build the stadium where the 40-year-old West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center sits. Architects hired by AEG have presented preliminary renderings showing an addition to the South Hall of the convention center that would create a 500,000-square-foot contiguous exhibition space.

According to the report, the predicted effects of the stadium plan include an estimated 19,500 new car trips downtown on game days, noise and light from 35 fireworks shows per year and sound systems in an outdoor public plaza that would be used for tailgating.

AEG, which hopes to attract an NFL franchise to Los Angeles for the first time since 1994, funded the $27 million study, which was compiled with help from the city’s Transportation, Fire and Police departments, Caltrans, Metro and Metrolink.

The report addresses such issues as traffic, air quality, noise, light pollution and public safety. It also predicts the stadium and convention center, to be built on city-owned land, would generate about 11,000 permanent new jobs.

Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, who spoke today in support of the stadium, said if construction and other shorter-term jobs were considered, the project would “bring nearly 30,000 jobs to Los Angeles” and $400 million in tax revenue.

Spurred by those estimates, union leaders and members turned out in force to urge the commission to support the project.

The environmental report focuses much attention on how fans will get to the stadium and what measures AEG would take to mitigate traffic. Analysis prepared by The Mobility Group estimates that 20 percent of football fans would take public transit for weekday games and 15 percent on weekends. About 7 percent of fans would walk to games on weekdays, 3.5 percent on weekends, the report predicts.

Ted Tanner, executive vice president for development at AEG, walked through elements designed to link the stadium and convention center to the surrounding community. He stressed the developer’s interest in creating “an inclusive urban culture” utilizing “the next generation of building types” and a new kind of NFL stadium.

Much of the discussion focused on community programs and benefits AEG has agreed to fund, including local hiring commitments, student and youth programs, a $1.3 million park and neighborhood security.

But several members of the Play Fair coalition demanded changes ranging from more affordable housing in the area to additional traffic mitigation. They sought to focus attention on how low-income downtown residents would fare and predicted, for example, that increased security would result in police harassment of local minorities.

“There are many holes in the EIR and the stadium will have impacts for decades on the surrounding community,” said Eric Ares, a Play Fair organizer, who said he worried that gentrification related to the project would drive low- income residents out of the area. Ares said Staples Center, also developed by AEG, resulted in the loss of 800 to 900 affordable housing units.

But proponents lauded AEG’s track record. “This is exactly what we need for downtown and AEG has always kept its word,” said Hilary Norton, executive director of FAST — Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic.

While the Planning Commission reviewed the environmental study and development agreement between AEG and the city, the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Downtown Stadium and Convention Center Renovation discussed financial details of plans for the replacement of the convention center’s West Hall.

A report by Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and interim convention center General Manager Phillip Hill raised some eyebrows by noting that the anticipated cost of the renovation would be between $287 million and $358 million — up from the original estimate of $275 million.

The initial cost estimates for the project “were substantially understated,” according to the report, which stated that the ultimate cost “will not be known until a construction contract is awarded and the bonds are issued.”

Design changes requested by the city — including a ballroom with the capacity to accommodate as many as 3,000 people — drove cost increases, City Councilwoman Jan Perry said.

Santana told the ad hoc committee that lower-than-anticipated interest rates would offset the higher costs.

According to the report, the costs would be covered through the issuance of as much as $228.7 million in bonds that would be repaid through stadium- generated revenue, such as property and sales taxes and rental income. Another $109.7 million in bonds would be repaid by AEG, according to the report.

“I asked them to create a Plan B,” Perry said, to cover the possibility that interest rates rise between now and when bonds are issued.

Unexpected cost overruns in excess of the bond financing would be split 50-50 between the city and AEG, but the city’s total is capped at $13.8 million, according to Perry’s office.

The committee meeting also pointed up a surprising source of support for the stadium. An attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council warned that a lawsuit filed by the Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition could derail the project if it delays approvals beyond a spring deadline for discussions with the National Football League

The Southland has not had an NFL team in more than 17 years.

The Los Angeles Raiders played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from 1982-1994, when owner Al Davis returned the team to Oakland. The Los Angeles Rams played in the Coliseum from 1946-1979. The team then played in what was then known as Anaheim Stadium from 1980-1994 before moving to St. Louis following the 1994 season.

AEG President Tim Leiweke has said that approval of the environmental review, possibly by the end of this year or beginning of 2013, will allow the company to show the NFL there is strong enough local commitment to warrant a professional football franchise being awarded to Los Angeles. The stadium project cannot move forward without a commitment for a team from the NFL.

The City Council is scheduled to hear the matter on Sept. 28. If the council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approve it, the environmental impact report would then be open to legal challenges for 175 days.

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