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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Don’t Punt Hard Questions on NFL Stadium

In 2010, word leaked out that Anschutz Entertainment Group and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were courting the NFL. The league that dashed in 1995 and remains elusive today was, as Councilwoman Jan Perry put it, “our own economic stimulus package.”

New stadium designs released earlier this month prove that as we approach 2012 the citizens of Los Angeles still don’t know the details – and apparently neither do the developers. The new designs prove that AEG’s proposal is still in flux. But our city government refuses to ask tough questions.

Despite promises by city officials and pageantry by AEG, details of the plan are scarce. What remains readily available, however, are broken promises and unanswered questions.

When AEG’s proposal was announced, we were promised that the expanded convention facility and new stadium would result in more than 30 additional citywide conventions bringing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to our city. We were showered with guarantees that Los Angeles would go from 15th in the nation to fifth as a convention destination. In the beginning, outlandish statements projected that our new events center would be 1.4 million square feet of contiguous space. Most importantly, we were promised more than 30,000 new jobs.

Few, if any, asked whether any of that was possible.

Throughout the vetting process, our city government immediately abandoned its promise that not a “dime of taxpayer money” would be used for the project. In exchange for flashy photo ops, city officials guided the project through approval without any finished details or hard, pressing questions.

Subject of study?

Going back one must wonder what city officials studied in the first place. The building hadn’t been designed. The Environmental Impact Report hadn’t been started. The only thing on the books was a mere six-page proposal by the developer.

How much will Farmers Field really cost? With the propensity for outrageous cost overruns in Southern California (e.g., the Robert F. Kennedy Community School at the Ambassador Hotel site, the “subway to the sea,” and the Anaheim to San Francisco “bullet train”), this is a question that we should be very concerned about – I’m sure the National Football League is. Will AEG pay for all cost overruns?

How will Los Angeles compete for conventions without a roof on the stadium? Will the Convention Center end up bigger than it is today? Or is this really just for the NFL?

We now know that the promise of jobs was inflated and without a roof on the stadium, the impact on the Convention Center won’t be as significant as the City Council stated.

As for those 30 conventions each year or the equivalent of 80 new event days (FarmersField.com), did anyone ask what convention in the world is going to come to Los Angeles without a roof on the stadium?

Farmers Field has already begun to damage convention business. The Society of Critical Care Medicine – a large annual convention – canceled its convention planned for 2014 because of construction issues. This negatively affected our local hotels and restaurants, but it didn’t seem to dissuade our City Council.

Since then, our city government has been silent. The agreement with AEG and the city reportedly states that the developers must pay for the loss of convention business – but that remains to be seen.

How many other conventions will cancel? After all, construction, noise and transportation issues won’t make for a memorable trade show.

How many conventions will this plan give us? How much money will local businesses lose during construction?

Don’t our city officials want these answers? They are unanimously behind AEG’s proposal.

It appears that under this project, Los Angeles will not get a bigger Convention Center and will not jump to the top five in convention cities. We will however get a bigger deficit, something our city cannot afford.

Has anyone looked at the top five convention cities/centers in America? Las Vegas has 10.5 million square feet of convention space. Chicago’s McCormick Place has 2.6 million. Orlando has 2.1 million. Washington, D.C., ranks fourth and Georgia’s World Congress Center ranks fifth. And while Georgia has a football field, it also has more than 3 million square feet of exhibition space.

How does this plan make Los Angeles more competitive? Have any conventions expressed interest in using Farmers Field?

How does the Los Angeles Auto Show take place in November at the peak of football season? Especially if we have two teams? Will our team(s) have to play road games throughout the month of November?

A closer look at the project is warranted and will certainly reveal the flaws in our city government and in the plan’s prospectus.

The biggest question that remains is whether or not our city officials – many of whom are running for higher office – are willing to ask these tough questions.

As a citizen of Los Angeles and a candidate for mayor, I recognize that AEG has had a positive impact on the community and I would like to see the NFL return. But not until we understand all of the details and not until we have all of the answers.

Kevin James is an attorney, radio broadcaster, former assistant U.S. attorney and currently a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.

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