AEG makes play for L.A. stadium

Will the City of Angels turn to the City of Industry?

Ask AEG topper Tim Leiweke about the competition his company faces from the City of Industry when it comes to bringing a football stadium to Los Angeles, and he answers simply, “I never think about the City of Industry.”

While others may be concerned about real estate magnate Ed Roski’s rival plan to erect a stadium in nearby City of Industry, Leiweke is sure his company can bring the first NFL team back to Los Angeles since the Rams left in 1994.

AEG’s downtown plan calls for the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center to be torn down while the South Hall is expanded and upgraded, a move most everyone agrees is desperately needed to lure more conventions to the city. The 72,000-seat Farmers Field (so named after Farmers Insurance agreed to pay $700 million in a 30-year naming rights package in February) would go up in the West Hall’s place.

AEG will completely pay for the $1 billion stadium, says Leiweke, who has repeatedly stressed that Farmers Field will require no taxpayer funds. The Convention Center expansion will cost $350 million, paid for with bonds issued by the city. AEG has promised that it will pay any shortfall on the bonds if the city does not make enough in revenue from the site to recoup its costs.

Part of Leiweke’s pitch to woo state and city officials to approve AEG’s plan is the revamped Convention Center and Farmers Field go hand in hand when it comes to job creation and improving the economy. “Eight football games is not going to move the needle on the economy,” he says, taking a swipe at Roski’s plan. “This will because we fix the Convention Center.”

AEG’s success is still uncertain, despite Leiweke’s determination. During an April 18 city council meeting, a chief legislative analyst said an NFL team would need to commit to staying at the stadium for at least 20 years to ensure time to pay off the bonds. Also, Leiweke recently swat down city councilman Bill Rosendahl’s request the city share in the $700 million naming rights money, a suggestion he calls “ridiculous.” “I’m looking at a single-digit rate of return to begin with” on the stadium.

Therefore, Leiweke says it is critical that AEG own a piece of whatever team the company brings to Los Angeles. Seven franchises could possibly make a move, including the San Diego Chargers, although Leiweke has played coy in discussing specific options. For now, any talks with teams are tabled until the NFL’s labor dispute with its players is resolved.

Last winter, Leiweke said he hoped to be ready for the 2015 NFL season. He tells Variety a more realistic plan would be September 2016, which dashes his dream to host the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl in February 2016. However, he adds,

“We hope we will get two to three Super Bowls in the first 10 years no matter when we open it.”

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