L.A. Convention Center changes might happen even without NFL deal
The development firm pushing to build a 76,000-seat football stadium in downtown Los Angeles--and use new taxes from the project to finance a major Convention Center upgrade--said Monday it is exploring backup plans if the NFL deal stalls.
Speaking to Times editors and reporters, Anschutz Entertainment Group President Tim Leiweke said his company is considering how it could revamp the Convention Center if a pro football venue is not built.
A plan to demolish and rebuild part of the Convention Center has been central to garnering city support for the stadium deal. But in recent days, amid reports that NFL executives are dissatisfied with the terms of AEG’s proposal to bring a team to Los Angeles, the fate of the Convention Center rehab was called into question.
Leiweke said Monday that AEG is committed to finding a deal for a team that works. Phil Anschutz, the reclusive billionaire who is chairman of the company, is prepared to buy a full stake in a franchise if that’s what it takes, he said. "This is not about the wherewithal," he said.
AEG has already invested $27 million in the project, he said. On Thursday, it plans to release a 10,000-page draft Environmental Impact Report following 18 months of study and more than 200 community meetings.
He said officials hope to publish a final report by the end of summer, which will be followed by a 172-day period for legal challenges.
Leiweke said Anschutz instructed him to get the project clear of city approvals before beginning serious negotiations with a team. He said it was unlikely that the company would make any deal on a team before next March, when the NFL holds its annual meeting in Phoenix.
Officials said the environmental report pledges mitigation measures to ease traffic congestion, including $2.5 million to improve the 101 Freeway and more than $10 million for the expansion of a nearby light rail line. The company plans to build only an additional 1,100 parking spaces because it says there are already more than 50,000 spaces within a close walk of the project site -- and because it hopes that a quarter of the trips to the stadium will involve public transit. A bill passed by state legislators last year that limits the timeline for legal challenges to the project requires AEG to limit effects of traffic increases.
Leiweke also unveiled plans to redevelop Gilbert Lindsay Plaza, a largely concrete space outside of the Convention Center, into a civic square that would also serve as a gathering spot for what he called a new kind of tailgating experience. Officials said the park would bring together food booths operated by local restaurants, such as Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n Waffles and Manuel’s Tepeyac.
Leiweke said the park, combined with other more traditional tailgating would "create the greatest tailgating party in history." He said features like that, combined with the proposed stadium's central, transit-rich location, makes it the best location for a stadium in the Los Angeles area and would be appealing for NFL team owners looking to relocate. "Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be a part of LA?”
Still, he said, if AEG isn't able to lure a team and the stadium falls through, the company will continue to pursue improvements to the convention center.
Under the current deal, the convention center updates would be paid for in part by bond money. The bonds would be backed by the city's general fund and repaid with new revenue generated by the stadium project.
He didn't say how the improvements would be financed in the absence of the stadium, but he said upgrading the exhibition center is in the best interests of the city. It would also be in the best interest of his company, whose Staples Center and L.A. Live entertainment and hotel complex neighbor the Convention Center.
For the record, 6 p.m. April 2: A previous version of this post mistakenly named Villa Tepeyac as one of the local restaurants that might operate a food booth at a redeveloped Gilbert Lindsay Plaza.
-- Kate Linthicum
Photo: The west hall is reflected in the windows of the main lobby of the L.A. Convention Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times