These are heady times for Inglewood Mayor James Butts. His challenged city stands to be greatly boosted by the arrival of the Rams football team; property values have jumped already and the name “Inglewood” will soon be familiar across America.
Yet he feels slighted.
He is still sore at seeing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti interviewed on ESPN on Jan. 12, the day the National Football League announced the team would return to Los Angeles from St. Louis.
“Eric Garcetti had nothing to do with this project but he was the person who went on the interview,” Butts told the Business Journal. “I don’t think I got enough credit.”
He added that Garcetti’s focus had been on getting the Farmers Field stadium in downtown Los Angeles with Anschutz Entertainment Group and not on the ultimately successful Inglewood bid worked on by him and his team.
Butts said that L.A.’s mayor did acknowledge the Inglewood City Council’s contribution at a Jan. 28 meeting of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but he did not go far enough.
“He spoke obliquely about how this would be for the region, he added it’s been done with no cost to the taxpayers,” Butts said. “Well, we did that.”
Asked if he got enough credit for his work, the Inglewood mayor responded, “Absolutely not. But for now what matters is that people in town know what we accomplished.”
Garcetti’s press secretary Connie Llanos told the Business Journal, “Mayor Garcetti is thrilled to see the return of the Rams to Los Angeles and looks forward to working with Mayor Butts and the city of Inglewood on this exciting new development. Bringing the NFL back will be a huge boost to the economy of the entire greater L.A. region.”
Attempts to return the NFL here had been made for more than two decades by various politicians, developers and tycoons – including the abandoned AEG proposal for a stadium downtown.
In the end, league owners voted to allow the Rams to move to the L.A. market, where the team is ultimately slated to play in a $1.8 billion privately financed stadium to be built on the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood.
Butts said he prefers to look forward, not back, and is anticipating a huge economic impact on his city from the stadium.
Inglewood will gain $18.7 million to $28 million in annual revenue over 16 years, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service. Last year’s revenue was almost $227 million, which means the stadium itself will provide about an 8 percent to 12 percent boost to the city’s coffers.
But that may only be the beginning. The stadium is going to be part of a multibillion-dollar retail, housing and entertainment complex.
“It’s going to be the newest and most beautiful arena in the world,” said Butts.
The development is expected to create 40,000 jobs, including 12,000 permanent part-time positions once it opens.
There is already a spike in demand for residential and commercial real estate in Inglewood, according to the mayor.
“We have people who are offering over $50,000 above the asking price” for both residential and commercial properties, said Butts. “As soon as the sale sign goes up, there are six or seven offers within a couple hours. It already manifested itself in the real estate value.”
To land the Rams, Inglewood fended off competition from a rival stadium proposal in Carson.
“There is no way there was any comparison to the quality of the site. Our site is twice as large as theirs,” said Butts, 62, adding that he wasn’t intimidated by the competition even when Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger was brought in to lead the rival bid.
“That had nothing to do with the progress on their side. It was more an attempt to sway the media,” he said.
Inglewood’s opportunity came in January 2014 when Rams owner and real estate magnate Stan Kroenke bought land at Hollywood Park. Two year later, the Rams got the NFL’s OK to move in there, with the San Diego Chargers given a one-year option to join them in Inglewood.
Until the stadium is complete in 2019, the Rams are due to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, starting next season.
After learning Inglewood had won the battle, the mayor said he was in a daze of delight.
“It took me two days to realize that we won,” said Butts, who celebrated by walking around the site of the future stadium talking to residents and “observing their personal sense and expression of pride.”
“Now when citizens of Inglewood go to conferences and other places,” he said, “people gather around them and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, you’ve come a very long way.’”
Before taking the mayor’s chair in Inglewood, Butts worked 19 years for the city’s Police Department, where he rose to the position of deputy chief. In 1991, he became the police chief of Santa Monica.
In 2011, Butts started his term as a mayor of Inglewood. Since then, he said the crime rate has been the lowest in the city’s history, with homicide rates down 50 percent.
Still, he plans to beef up police staffing levels once the city receives revenues generated by the stadium. He plans to hire 10 additional officers over the next four to five years and add 20 more down the line.
The current crime rate, Butts said, is a good sign of how business-friendly Inglewood has become.
Iconic entertainment venue the Forum reopened in 2014 and has served to bring more people to the city.
“Our competitors had said no one would come to the Forum, but it sells out every event,” Butts said. “We have a highly diverse crowd coming to see the likes of Justin Timberlake, Chelsea Handler and the Eagles.”
Last year, officials started a citywide street and sidewalk restructuring costing $1.5 million a year. It also invested $5 million into the capital project and sidewalk repair over the last three years.
For now, the city is not planning to hire any new workers to handle the football crowds.
“Game days are only 10 Sundays a year,” Butts said.
As for the stadium, the city has a 35 percent local hiring goal and a 30 percent local business employment goal.
The project is entirely financed by developers, according to Butts, who are getting “no tax breaks, incentives or cash rebates.”
He added that the biggest challenge will be attracting a crowd of customers throughout the year, not just in football season, but said that also presents an opportunity.
“Anytime you bring more people to the city, there are going to be opportunities for purchase,” he said. “So small businesses will benefit from having more customers.”
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