LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A City Council committee today approved construction of a $1.1 billion NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles and an estimated $315 million convention center hall, despite some concerns over the pending sale of development company AEG.
The green light for the 76,000-seat stadium and convention center upgrade, however, is dependent on AEG’s ability to secure a football team to move to Los Angeles.
The full City Council is expected to approve the plan and environmental impact report Friday. That approval will trigger a 175-day period for opponents to challenge the project in court. A state bill last year gave the project special legal protection, including the truncated period for legal challenges.
AEG President Tim Leiweke described the vote as the culmination of two years of work that puts the region the “closest we’ve ever been to returning the NFL to L.A.” since 1994. That’s when the Los Angeles Raiders moved to Oakland and the Los Angeles Rams moved from Anaheim to St. Louis.
The project’s fate came into question last week with the announcement that billionaire investor Philip Anschutz was putting AEG up for sale, a decision Leiweke said was finalized during a company retreat several weeks ago.
During the committee meeting, Leiweke apologized to the city for “the disturbance and disruption” the announcement caused. “That is my fault. I’ll take full blame for that,” he told the committee.
Leiweke argued that the ownership change was inevitable, saying Anschutz would be 128 years old by the end of AEG’s ground lease with the city for the new stadium.
“We were going to go through a sale inevitably,” he said, adding that new owners would provide “long-term predictability, not just for the city but for the NFL when we make this project a reality.”
City Councilwoman Jan Perry and other members of the committee charged with vetting the stadium proposal sought assurance from Leiweke and city negotiators that AEG’s new owner would honor the company’s financial commitments, including to fully fund the new convention hall and stadium, which would be called Farmers Field.
“To be very clear, anybody that steps into this agreement, this project, is going to have live by all of the agreements that we have negotiated, or the city will not close,” Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller told the committee. “At the end of the day the city is not at risk in any way. In the worst case, we are left where we are today, and we need to rethink how to go forward with our convention center.”
Perry and other council members expressed some concern about about signing a major deal that would change the landscape of downtown for decades without knowing who would own the stadium and NFL team. Leiweke told the committee that he signed a new contract and received assurances from prospective bidders for the company that Leiweke and his executive team would remain at the helm of AEG at least until Farmers Field would open.
Business and labor groups spoke in support of the project, arguing it would create badly needed construction jobs and would become an economic engine for downtown, Pico Union to the west and South Los Angeles.
The agreement includes a community benefits package that requires AEG to provide money for job training and streetscape improvements. It also has a local-hire component intended to offer jobs to workers in communities adjacent to the stadium that suffer from high unemployment rates.