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NFL stadium plan meets with questions, some skepticism from L.A. City Council

February 2, 2011 |  4:46 pm

NFL stadium supporters

The prospect of a new National Football League stadium in downtown Los Angeles — an idea already enthusiastically embraced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — generated vigorous debate Wednesday before City Council members who waxed both enthusiastic and skeptical about the notion.

During their first floor debate on the proposal, the council voted to recruit a financial analyst to study the costs and benefits of a new stadium -– and a related major upgrade of the adjacent Los Angeles Convention Center. Still, some voiced worry about the risks, pointing out that the city is already in a major financial crisis, staring at a $350-million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

“We’re already on a tightrope,” said Councilman Paul Koretz. “One wrong step and we could push the city into bankruptcy.”

Leading the doubters about a concept yet to be submitted formally was Councilman Paul Krekorian, who said the city should not go to “extraordinary lengths” to speed up the timeline for approving the stadium plan. “What’s the rush?” he asked.

Council President Eric Garcetti and others said the council should quickly gather information on the proposal, which has already captured the imagination of the mayor and football fans and has the potential to generate much-needed jobs and revenues.

Supporters of the concept noted how Staples Center, next to the proposed stadium site, had helped transform a once-sleepy swath of downtown into a vibrant corridor. “This is the way to move the city forward, not to sit on our hands and wait for someone else to act,” said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who cited the rival stadium idea in the City of Industry.

A new stadium, Alarcon added, could help “create an economic engine” for a city that been battered by layoffs and service cuts and faces massive new budget shortfalls later this year. Advocates of the stadium concept noted that that city was not formally approving any aspect of a prospective deal. Officials have yet to negotiate a deal with the developer.

Most critically, the city lacks an NFL franchise.

“If it’s not a good deal, we punt,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who voiced the hope that the stadium plan would help prompt the NFL to grant an expansion team to Los Angeles. “I say, ‘Get in the huddle.' "

The council voted to move forward on three fronts, calling for studies of the stadium proposal and its impact on the convention center, and directing city staff to engage in formal discussions with the developer, Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG, which owns Staples Center and the L.A. Live entertainment complex, has announced its desire to construct the $1-billion stadium on land now occupied by part of the convention center.

Both the developer and the mayor have vowed that no taxpayer money would go to the project, though the city would issue $350 million worth of bonds to pay for upgrades to the convention center, part of which would have to be torn down and replaced. The developer has said additional tax revenues from the project should cover most of the bond payments.

Several council members were adamant that the city should not end up footing any part of the bill. “The city is in the worst financial crisis in its history, and I don’t want a penny of taxpayer money to go to a stadium,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who warned against the city being “seduced” by the developer. Krekorian also proposed a resolution that seeks to put the council on record against any state legislation that would “subvert or accelerate” the environmental review of the stadium project.

Activist groups have been mobilizing against any effort to give AEG exemptions from state environmental laws governing pollution, noise, traffic and other concerns. Councilwoman Janice Hahn said the project would result in an upgrade for the convention center, expanding its square footage substantially and elevating it to the “top five” convention destinations nationwide. “The convention center piece [of the deal] is what I believe will revive the economy in Los Angeles,” Hahn said.

-- Patrick McDonnell and David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa poses Tuesday with Magic Johnson after a news conference in support of AEG's proposal to build an NFL stadium downtown. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times