Plans for a football stadium in downtown Los Angeles got the official green light Friday from the City Council. Its required approval of the environmental impact report and other agreements marked a crucial step in a long journey to bring an NFL team back to LA.
Anschutz Entertainment Group's privately funded $1.2 billion proposal includes a 76,000-seat stadium and a revamped LA Convention Center that would cost AEG an estimated $314 million.
The 12-0 vote came after news broke recently that AEG was for sale, raising questions about the future of the stadium plan.
In a packed and noisy chamber, an enthusiastic council considered a development agreement with AEG, which also owns the neighboring Staples Center, and an environmental report on the stadium, among other items that must be approved for the project to move forward.
"This morning we're going to take a giant step forward in the city of Los Angeles. This is about bringing football back to the city of Los Angeles, and don't let anybody tell you it’s not," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who headed an ad hoc council committe that oversaw the development of the stadium deal.
The stadium, slated to be called Farmers Field, will generate thousands of jobs and tax revenue for the city, said Perry, whose district would include the stadium.
Despite concerns about traffic, environmental impacts and the effect on a changing downtown, the proposal has met with little criticism from City Council members and has maintained strong support from labor unions.
Councilman Paul Koretz noted he had put a bumper sticker on his car saying "Bring Back the LA Rams."
AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke emphasized that the stadium will be paid for with private money. He also said union workers will build it, prompting cheers from the audience. He said approval of the plans would signal to the NFL that "L.A. is now open for business."
The giant sports-and-entertainment company plans to knock down the convention center's existing West Hall, and it would repay municipal bond funds to rebuild a new "Pico Hall" at a projected cost of $314 million.
If interest rates on those bonds go up, the city could be on the hook for $14 million.
After the vote, Leiweke emailed those who had signed up for updates on Farmers Field with a link to a waitlist for tickets.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, LA's wealthiest man and a potential bidder for AEG, was sitting alongside Leiweke at the council meeting. So was former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and ex-NFL quarterback Rodney Peete.
Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, spoke, praising Leiweke and the proposal as part of the "the new future of Los Angeles."
"We're fired up and ready to work; We're fired up and ready for football," Durazo said.
An approval of AEG's plan would set up fierce competition between the Denver-based company and Majestic Realty Co., which has approval to build a football stadium in the city of Industry.
Meanwhile, the NFL has not committed to sending a team to Los Angeles. The AEG deal is dependent on the league agreeing to move a team to the city.
A team transfer would have to be approved during a meeting of NFL owners, with the next meeting scheduled for March after the current season ends.
The project is ready to proceed once a team is approved, Leiweke said. First step would be demolition of the Convention Center's existing West Hall on the site where Farmers Field is to be built. Target goal for stadium opening is 2017.
The LA region has been without an NFL team since 1994, when the Raiders moved to Oakland and the Rams moved from Anaheim to St. Louis.
AEG spokesman Michael Roth said if a team move is approved in March, it could begin playing home games in the LA area at an interim site as soon as fall of 2013. The LA Memorial Coliseum and Pasadena's Rose Bowl Stadium are two possible locations, Roth said.
More on the stadium deal:
NOTE: City News Service contributed to this report. The projected cost for the building of a new convention center hall has been corrected.