LA council passes AEG's stadium plan

LOS ANGELES -- In perhaps the biggest step Los Angeles has taken in 16 years of trying to bring the NFL back, the city council unanimously passed the financial framework of an agreement between Anschutz Entertainment Group and the city to build Farmers Field, a $1.2 billion football stadium and events center in downtown Los Angeles.

The 68,000-seat roofed stadium would be attached to a new $275 million wing of the Los Angeles Convention Center next to the Staples Center, which is also owned and operated by AEG.

The "memorandum of understanding," a non-binding agreement, only needed a simple majority to pass but was approved by all present council members at Los Angeles City Hall to the delight of a standing room only crowd, which cheered after the vote was announced.

"This is a significant project for our city and it will bring football back to this city," said councilwoman Jan Perry, the committee chair on the proposed stadium and events center. "This sends a very clear message we are serious about bringing football back to Los Angeles."

An actual deal with the city is still about 10 months from becoming a reality, with the completion of an environmental impact report not expected until the spring. AEG is hoping to begin construction on the project in June 2012, with Farmers Field opening in September 2016.

AEG and Farmers Insurance Exchange announced the naming rights deal for the stadium in February.

The agreement states construction on the project cannot begin until an NFL team has signed a long-term lease to play in Los Angeles. That means an NFL team could be playing in the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl as early as next season if AEG begins construction on the project this summer.

"It sends a very strong message to the league now," AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke said at a news conference after the vote.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement after the vote that the league was aware of the council vote and would continue to monitor all stadium developments in the Los Angeles area.

Last week, the council committee on the stadium and convention center unanimously endorsed the deal, setting the stage for Tuesday's vote.

AEG has already commissioned design drawings for the new Pico Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center and Farmers Field and will begin discussions with the city next month on a definitive deal.

By the end of May, AEG wants to be done with the environmental impact report, entitlement process and have a binding deal with the city so construction can begin on the Pico Hall, as well as two new parking structures AEG will construct and operate on city-owned land on Cherry Street and Bond Street. AEG has agreed to finish these projects before beginning construction on the stadium.

If construction of the Convention Center and parking structures begins sometime in June, those buildings are expected to open sometime in the summer or fall of 2013, at which point the West Hall of the Convention Center would be demolished and construction of Farmers Field would begin on the site, with September 2016 being the targeted opening date.

The biggest difference between the original deal AEG proposed in January and the current proposal is the cost of the Convention Center expansion and the bonds needed to build it. In January, Leiweke had hoped the city would float $350 million in bonds to help finance the reconstruction of the Convention Center with AEG promising to repay them with revenue from the stadium. The cost has now been whittled down to $275 million, which will be paid for by tax-exempt bonds. Approximately 73 percent of the bonds would be covered by AEG and the other 27 percent would be covered by new tax revenues generated by Farmers Field.

"To be very clear, there is no public money in the stadium, none," said chief legislative analyst Gerry Miller, who negotiated the deal for the city with city administrative officer Miguel Santana. "We are not financing the stadium, we're not giving any land breaks on the stadium and they're going to pay a market-rate land lease. There's no public money in this stadium."

There is a competing stadium project spearheaded by real estate developer Ed Roski's Majestic Reality Co. to build a 75,000-seat stadium in the City of Industry, about 15 miles east of Los Angeles. The project has had permits in place to begin construction for nearly two years but the group, like AEG, has yet to secure an NFL team. Both groups would need a deal with an NFL team before construction can begin.

John Semcken, a Majestic vice president, said in a statement after the vote that its proposal would generate more money and jobs and be a better choice for the NFL.

"We are more active than ever and are currently working with the league, owners and teams to bring a franchise back to Los Angeles," he said.

The team most commonly linked to moving to Los Angeles is the San Diego Chargers, which began as the Los Angeles Chargers at the Coliseum in 1960. They have tried unsuccessfully for nearly a decade to get a new venue to replace 45-year-old Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers can announce their intentions to leave San Diego between Feb. 1 and May 1 of each year through 2020 if they pay off bonds tied to the expansion of Qualcomm Stadium in 1997, which would be about $24 million.

The Chargers are one of five teams, along with the St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, with whom Leiweke has had conversations about relocating to Los Angeles.

Casey Wasserman, the founder and CEO of Wasserman Media Group, who is partnering with AEG on the Farmers Field project, commended the unanimous vote.

"I commend the Los Angeles City Council. ... Their support of Farmer's Field is another victory in our effort to bring professional football to Los Angeles, and further AEG's commitment to enhancing the local economy. This is a long process, but today marks a step forward in reaching our larger goal."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.