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AEG chief takes his stadium proposal to the people

Stanley O. Williford | 6/29/2011, 5 p.m.

At West Angeles Church of God in Christ a passionate Tim Leiweke took off his coat, threw it aside and tore into his subject.

Bishop Charles E. Blake, the pastor, sat on the front row in the church's Crystal Room, and it's possible he thought Leiweke had missed his calling.

The fire and the fervor were there, and so was a packed house of believers.

What had gotten the man of AEG so fired up? Was it football? Was it Farmers Field?

No, said Leiweke, president and chief executive of the entertainment conglomerate.

"I'm passionate about something else. The community is struggling. There's 40 percent unemployment in the construction trades."

"Don't get me wrong," he continued. "I like football, but I'm pissed [and here he paused and apologized to the bishop for his language] that this community can't find the vision to put people back to work."

But that brought Leiweke back to the proposed stadium, Farmers Field.

"This isn't just about building a football stadium," he said. "It's about fixing the convention center."

It seems the 40-year-old Los Angeles Convention Center needs about $100 million worth of renovation and its non-contiguous West Hall is so far away from the South Hall that it takes about ten minutes to walk from one to the other.

Then he told the large gathering of about 300 persons that had come to hear the man of AEG the shameful facts:

Before AEG built the J.W. Marriott-Ritz-Carlton Hotel Los Angeles ranked 26th in the nation as a convention city, slightly behind Omaha, Neb. Today, it ranks 15th. But his vision, he said, is to get Los Angeles in the top five convention cities.

Still, Leiweke said, "We can't even talk to the larger conventions. We're the B-convention market."
When Microsoft was considering a convention locale, he said, they didn't even look at Los Angeles.

"They chose Houston."

But Leiweke laid out the plan that shows how the city could become a desirable convention venue with the AEG proposal.

Under the AEG plan the city would have no outlay of revenue.

It is estimated that Farmers Field would cost about $1 billion to build, but about $700 million would be provided by Farmers Insurance, which would obtain the naming rights for 30 years.

AEG would be responsible for the rest. The stadium would be built where the West Hall presently stands. During construction, the South Hall would remain in operation for convention business.

To tear down and rebuild the West Hall would cost about $350 million. To finance this, the city would float $350 million in bonds, but the bonds would be repaid by a tax on stadium tickets. In the case of any shortfall, AEG would make up the difference.

Most cities would jump at the proposal, but the Los Angeles City Council has only leaned slightly in that direction. Admittedly, the city has to wait for an environmental impact report and consider potential traffic problems. And the nation's second largest city might be wondering, "if we build it, will football come?"

Still, AEG has proven with the building of the Staples Center and L.A. Live that it can invigorate a downtown, and there's no question that a stadium project would infuse money and spur much-needed employment, especially in the construction trades.

AEG has held a couple dozen such community meetings in effort to build a groundswell of support for the stadium. This meeting drew in a large number from the local African American business community, among whom were Skip Cooper, head of the Black Business Association; Gene Hale, president of G&C Equipment Corp.; Sidney Williams, former ambassador to the Bahamas; Eric Holoman, president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, former NFL greats Rodney Peete and Reggie Berry.