AEG chief criticizes downtown stadium skeptics, pledging 'not a penny' of city money will be spent
The head of the entertainment conglomerate seeking to build a National Football League stadium in downtown Los Angeles shot back at skeptics Tuesday and reiterated his pledge that “not a penny” of taxpayer money would be spent on the mega-project.
“The city’s never going to have to pay a penny — and we’re going to guarantee it,” said Timothy J. Leiweke, president and chief executive officer of Anshutz Entertainment Group, which is behind the $1-billion stadium plan.
“It’s easy to take shots at this,” Leiweke told reporters. “Will everyone just take a deep breath and have a little faith that we’re not going to lie to people? We’re going to do the right thing. Calm down.”
A formal stadium proposal should be presented this week, Leiweke said following a press conference meant to drum up support for a planned streetcar line downtown. But questions afterward focused not on the streetcar proposal but on the stadium deal that has already been embraced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others.
However, several City Council members have voiced reservations about the project at a time when the city is facing an extreme fiscal crisis that could result in additional employee layoffs, furloughs and service cuts. As part of the stadium deal, the city would have to issue $350 million in bonds for a renovation of the adjacent convention center. But Leiweke vowed that his company would make up any financing gap if stadium revenue falls short.
“When the proposal gets there, everyone’s going to take a deep breath and realize: There is zero risk to the taxpayer,” Leiweke said. "This is people trying to scare people. And it’s a shame. Because we have a 30% unemployment rate in this city, for the construction industry. And if people think that’s going to be solved by sitting here and throwing rocks, they’re wrong.”
The NFL has reacted enthusiastically the proposal, said Leiweke, who called the project the largest private investment in a stadium in league history.
“Almost every other community in the world would be throwing parades,” Leiweke said. “But here we shoot."
That’s a classic Los Angeles reaction, the AEG boss said he told NFL officials. “I told them, 'Hey, it’s L.A. It’s the way we do things.’"
Leiweke also noted that there were skeptics about construction of Staples Center, AEG’s signature downtown arena, which is home to the Lakers and the Clippers and now widely regarded as having helped revitalize a once sleepy swath of town. Former Councilman Joel Wachs opposed the use of taxpayer money to finance the Staples project.
“If we would have listened to Joel Wachs,” Leiweke said, “we would have been playing basketball out in the suburbs.”
-- Patrick J. McDonnell at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Tim Leiweke at press event for proposed stadium last week. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times