Since big-time sports arrived here some 40 years ago, L.A. has always had its share of legendary owners. Walter O’Malley. Jack Kent Cooke. Al Davis.
And now, Edward P. Roski Jr.
Edward P. Roski Jr.?
Known until recently within just a small circle of L.A.’s industrial real estate community, Roski, along with his partner Philip Anshutz, have emerged as the key players in L.A.’s effort to revive the city’s downtown core.
Not only are they prepped to build a downtown sports arena and eventually hotels and other developments near the site they are now pushing plans for a new football stadium to be built within the walls of the historic Coliseum.
At stake, according to Roski, is not just the return of pro football to Los Angeles, but a renaissance of the city’s downtown core.
“To us, this is the most visible thing that we can think of that is going to be done in Los Angeles in the foreseeable future,” Roski said in an interview at the Coliseum last week.
“This, along with a number of the other developments that are happening in the downtown core area will really re-energize the whole community,” he said.
Not everyone sees it that way. While the plan to build a new sports arena downtown has plenty of support, the Coliseum plan has met with resistance, particularly from several National Football League team owners who have said they would not support placing an expansion team at the Coliseum.
Meanwhile, News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch is in negotiations to buy the Dodgers from Peter O’Malley, and reportedly has expressed an interest in owning a football team. There has been speculation that if Murdoch buys the Dodgers, he might give new life to O’Malley’s abandoned plans to build a football arena adjacent to Dodger Stadium.
For the moment, though, Roski and Anshutz have the inside track on the Coliseum as well as the political clout, thanks to their developing relationship with City Council members prompted by the sports arena.
And with billionaire Denver oil magnate Anshutz taking a behind-the-scenes role, it falls to Roski to be the point man for what may be the biggest sports projects in the city’s history.
It’s an unlikely role. Despite making it on the Business Journal’s list of the 50 richest Angelenos with an estimated net worth of $320 million, the Toluca Lake resident father of three, grandfather of three keeps a low profile (save for his black Ferrari).
A reserved man who chooses his words carefully in an interview, Roski said he accepts the newfound attention even though he did not seek it out.
“Because of the high visibility of the project, there is a lot of interest in it,” Roski said. “So there’s a lot more exposure because of that. But I think that’s all good for the city and for the community.”
Associates describe Roski as an adept businessman whose negotiation skills can be seen in the success of Majestic Realty Corp., which his father founded nearly 50 years ago (Roski’s father, Edward Sr., also made the Business Journal’s richest list).
“He’s very quick he gets to the point very quickly, he understands the issues very quickly and is not one to waste a lot of time,” said Bill Lee, founder of Lee & Associates, a City of Industry-based commercial real estate brokerage firm that shares an office building with Majestic Realty.
“I think he’s easy to deal with, but going in you know he’s a very sound and capable businessman with good instincts, and if you’re not prepared, you’re wasting his time,” said Lee, who has worked on projects with Roski for the last two decades.
An avid photographer and outdoorsman who grew up in Westchester, Roski attended Loyola High School before going to USC, where he was a linebacker on the junior varsity football team for three years and where he graduated with a real estate degree in 1962.
Joining his father at Industry-based Majestic, Roski worked on a variety of commercial and industrial real estate projects, including the development of the Industry Hills Sheraton Resort and Conference Center in the city of Industry.
It was through Majestic that Roski met Anshutz in the late 1980s. At the time, Anshutz owned the Southern Pacific Railroad and its vast real estate holdings. He turned to Majestic, which owns substantial industrial properties adjoining the railroad, to develop much of the L.A.-area rail-side property, including a 50-acre site between Union Station and Chavez Ravine.
Because Union Station is centrally located and a hub for the city’s subway and commuter rail lines, Roski and Anshutz hit on the idea of developing the site as a new sports arena.
That led to discusssions with the team owners Bruce McNall of the Kings, Jerry Buss of the Lakers and Don Sterling of the Clippers.
Although the site was ultimately rejected, the talks accomplished one thing putting Roski in touch with the city’s sports moguls. And it was that connection that made Roski and Anshutz aware of the opportunity to buy the Kings for $113 million in 1995, as McNall’s empire collapsed amid fraud charges.
“We got involved we got involved with the Kings and the ownership, and then when the opportunity arose, we acquired the Kings,” Roski said.
But Roski never gave up on the idea of an arena.
Almost immediately after acquiring the Kings, Roski and Anshutz opened discussions about a new facility with Los Angeles and Inglewood, where the Kings and Lakers now play in the Great Western Forum.
By then, the focus had shifted from the Union Station area to the Convention Center where city officials saw a sports arena and entertainment complex accomplishing their long-held wish of revitalizing the South Park area.
Roski said the Los Angeles ultimately won out over Inglewood largely because of geography; downtown’s central location is far more convenient to San Fernando and San Gabriel valley residents than Inglewood.
But it wasn’t a slam dunk. At one point last year, Roski and Anshutz broke off negotiations after deciding that City Council members were indifferent to the project.
“He never did rant and rave or anything like that,” said Council President John Ferraro, who intervened to cool tempers and put the talks back on track. “He was always a gentleman, but he’s a strong person.”
Late last month, the L.A. City Council approved the framework of a plan to build a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena adjacent to the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The two men committed $200 million 70 percent from Anshutz, 30 percent from Roski to build the arena, and $70 million in city bonds would be used to acquire the land and help pay for the arena if the deal ultimately is approved.
And even as terms of the sports arena’s development were being ironed out, Roski and Anschutz also announced last month they will commit $500 million to bringing a National Football League team to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, which has been without professional football since the Raiders moved to Oakland two seasons ago.
Thus, Roski is positioned to move from real estate magnate to sports mogul. But Roski insists that he gets only partial credit.
“It’s been a team project. It really has,” he said. “None of us have our fingerprints on any of it. It’s always been done in a consensus mode. Everybody has their own ideas, but we always sit down and discuss it and make a final action and move forward.”
Anshutz did not return calls for comment, but Roski said the Denver billionaire is deeply involved.
“We talk daily sometimes three times a day,” Roski said of his partner. “This is a major undertaking.”
Along with Anschutz, Roski also credits the success of the sports arena deal to a team of lawyers and others: Majestic Realty Vice President John Semcken, Latham & Watkins attorneys George Mihlsten and Dave Rogers, Holme, Roberts and Owen attorney Kevin Conwick, Anschutz Corp. Vice President Craig Slater and Anschutz Properties President Robert J. Sanderman.
And though he also stands to make a big profit from the arena deal, Roski says there is more than money at stake.
“It’s one of the things all of us in the community can stand behind and root for and feel like we’re part of a community,” he said.
“I think he really wants to do something for L.A.,” agreed Ferraro. “The city has been good to him, the area has been good to him, and he wants to pay some of it back.”