JOE BEL BRUNO
After almost a year of intense negotiations to build a sports arena in downtown Los Angeles, the developers and city officials are now saying that an agreement might be close at hand.
L.A. officials report they are making progress on remaining issues that stand in the way of a deal and believe that a memorandum of understanding between the city and developers can be submitted for a City Council vote by Jan. 15.
“On the whole, I feel favorable on the project,” said Ron Deaton, the city’s chief legislative analyst who is leading the negotiations. “There are a few things still left to go but I’m hopeful that, in a few days, I’ll be smiling wider.”
Deaton briefed the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Sports Arena during a meeting last week on the progress of the negotiations. He said consensus had been reached on most of the 10 issues previously identified by the council as stumbling blocks in the deal.
Negotiators for the developers L.A. Kings owners Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz said they also are encouraged at the progress made. However, they warn of many more hurdles to cross before construction can begin on the $250 million, 20,000-seat arena.
“A lot will depend on the council’s reaction this week,” said George J. Mihlsten, an attorney with Latham & Watkins who represents the developers.
“We were really pleasantly surprised at the support we got for the first time, the business community, even residents who will be displaced if the arena is built, were solidly behind the project,” he said.
John Semcken, who also is on the negotiating team for the developers, said that even if the council gives its approval, the project must still obtain environmental reports, a ground lease, and a development agreement.
The speed at which the council approves the arena deal might impact future plans to build a 1,500-room hotel and a 500,000-square-foot retail complex on the site, he said.
“One of the problems is that this is taking so long to get done, and that is making people concerned about the reality of completing other projects on the site,” said Semcken.
“If we come to the conclusion that the council is going to block us every step of the way, and all we’re going to do is an arena, then we won’t do it in Los Angeles,” he said.
The project is under heavy scrutiny from City Councilman Joel Wachs, the deal’s most vocal critic, who believes the current deal puts the city at financial risk. He contends that some members of the council are being pressured to move the deal along or face losing out to Inglewood.
“This is a complete sham,” said Wachs. “They are only going to give us a few days to approve a 60-page memorandum of understanding? There’s no public hearing, no discussion, nothing. Something’s going on here the council better wake up and see that we are being cheated and swindled.”
Los Angeles Chief Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said the money to cover the city’s $6.8 million in annual bonded debt for its share of the arena’s costs would come from $1.3 million in property taxes from the arena itself, $1.6 million in parking revenues and $3.5 million a year from a ticket tax or surcharge.
Meanwhile, Inglewood officials say the game isn’t over yet.
Inglewood Assistant City Manager Norm Cravens says the developers have been in simultaneous negotiations with Los Angeles and Inglewood.
Inglewood reportedly is offering Roski and Anschutz $30 million to build a new arena on property owned by Hollywood Park. The Great Western Forum would be demolished under the deal, eliminating any chance of a competing venue.
The Inglewood deal would be more lucrative for both sides, Cravens said, and has full community support.
“I think frustration is affecting everybody, it’s been in active negotiations for more than a year,” said Cravens. “I think frustration is setting in with L.A. (officials) and the developer and that could kill the deal.”