By JOE BEL BRUNO
Just a few blocks away from the Great Western Forum, sports fans for decades have been stopping by Mike Gubner’s store to pick up Lakers and Kings merchandise.
The Sports Section opened for business in 1965, and has been selling fans everything from t-shirts to hats promoting the teams. But talk that the teams will move to downtown Los Angeles has left Gubner and other business leaders wondering if their doors will stay open.
“This scares the hell out of me,” said Gubner, who said his store stands to lose about 60 percent of its business should the teams leave the Forum. “Even in the down years we made money from them. This would really have an impact.”
The future of his business, Gubner says, rests on a decision by Kings’ owners Ed Roski and Philip Anschutz. Both are currently in negotiations with L.A. to build a sports arena downtown, providing a new home for the Kings and Lakers.
Supporters of a downtown site contend that a $200 million sports arena scheduled to be completed before the 1999 hockey season could provide an opportunity for neighborhood revitalization.
But L.A.’s gain would be a loss for Inglewood, the self-proclaimed “City of Champions” whose identity derives in large part from being the home of the Lakers and Kings.
At The Sports Section, where posters of Lakers greats like Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal adorn the walls, patrons say they fear the worst. Not only will sports-related shops lose revenue, but so will restaurants and other businesses that rely on patronage by sports fans.
“I think you’ll see a lot of these kinds of businesses move to where the new arena is,” said Bill Renegar, a customer who went to the store to price Lakers jerseys. “There’s a real feeling of abandonment for the fans, and now I guess really for the businesses.”
The loss would also hurt the city treasury. If left behind, Inglewood officials say the city stands to lose millions of dollars in direct tax revenue from the Forum.
The city currently collects annually about $1 million from admission taxes; $300,000 in parking fees; $300,000 from utility taxes and sales on Forum concessions; and $1.5 million in property taxes.
Last year, the city’s general fund was $60.1 million. The budget is funded each year with an estimated $59 million in revenues, including taxes and other fees from Hollywood Park and The Forum.
“That’s a significant amount of money,” said Assistant City Manager Norman Cravens. “This won’t hit us for years it is far in the future but is definitely something that we’re thinking about.”
He would not speculate if the city would absorb the losses, or find additional sources of revenue.
However, city officials have not given up hope. Los Angeles must still approve a Memorandum of Understanding, ground lease and environmental reports before construction can begin.
“Even if they leave, the Forum will still be here with some level of activity,” Cravens said, adding that the city will begin developing alternative plans once construction begins at the downtown site.
One alternative, he said, is the possibility of the Clippers moving to Inglewood.
The team currently has a short-term lease agreement to play at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, located near the Coliseum. However, L.A. officials have told Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling that the site will likely be turned into a sports-related retail attraction should L.A. get a National Football League team.
Sterling was in negotiations as late as three weeks ago with Inglewood about the possibility of a move, Cravens said. The team could possibly play in The Forum, or in a new arena built on land owned by Hollywood Park.