Quick: what economic sector most reminds you of Los Angeles? Hollywood? Aerospace? Yoga? According to sports and entertainment giant AEG and a certain pastoral insurance company, it's none of the above.
Last week AEG announced that Los Angeles' nonexistant downtown football stadium, to be developed door to Staples Center and LA Live, will be funded in part by a sponsorship by Farmers Insurance. Thus, the world will know Los Angeles as the home of -- I'm not kidding -- Farmers Field.
I suppose it makes sense in a roundabout way, since it will probably be the only farmer's field in the entire county. Granted, Farmers Insurance is actually based in Los Angeles, but no one is likely to know that. This is thus the strangest naming-rights deal since the Phoenix Cardinals, who were desperate to move out of a college stadium (Sun Devil Stadium), moved into a stadium named for a college (University of Phoenix Stadium). For this deal, AEG will get $700 million towards total development costs that exceed $1 billion. At least Farmers will get its money's worth, since everyone who hears the name is going to do a double-take.
Let's see what else is the matter here:
AEG President Tim Leiwickie has told the Los Angeles City Council that AGE is asking state lawmakers to approve a CEQA exemption for the project. Raise your hand if you're surprised.
When CP&DR was covering the end of last year's legislative session, the Planning & Conservation League was making a lot of noise about the possibility that AEG would seek a CEQA exemption. The previous year such an exemption had been granted to a competing project to be developed by Ed Roski's Majestic Realty Co. in the City of Industry. At the time I spoke with AEG Vice President Michael Roth, who swore up and down that a stadium was just a glimmer in AEG's eye. He assured me that no CEQA lobbying was going on and that no such plans were in the works. Let's just say that he was pretending to be candid, and I was pretending to believe him.
But Roth could even have argued that he didn't want a CEQA exemption, because thanks to the Industry precedent, AEG would probably get one whether it liked it or not. As CP&DR Publisher Bill Fulton wrote in December 2009, "it would be impossible now for the state to deny the same exemption to football stadiums." Basically, Ed Roski has done everyone else's lobbying for them.
As I wrote a few months ago, Los Angeles has a perfectly good, centrally located, well used site for a football stadium. In fact, it doesn't just have the site. It has the actual stadium: the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Granted, the Coliseum needs an overhaul. But what it doesn't have is an adjacent hotel-and-entertainment complex to lure football fans and their wallets. Instead, the Coliseum is a public facility in the middle of a public park.
For $700 million the residents of Los Angeles can probably tolerate a lot. But the city is still being asked to float $350 million in bonds to cover the demolition of the unloved West Hall of the Convention Center and other local improvements. Fortunately, members of the Los Angeles City Council seem to be wary of the potential public cost. Then again, there's no bigger power broker in City Hall than AEG these days.
Design & Roof
I'm not about to say that the stadium needs a starchitect. But the three designs proposed by mega-firms Gensler, HKS, and HNTB have about as much charm as as an industrial feedlot. Two features common to all three designs stand out: First, no matter how many Justin Bieber concerts it will accommodate, a retractable roof should be outlawed in Southern California. Toronto, yes. Los Angeles, no. Second, does it have to be an enclosed box? All three designs stand so tall that they appear to sever all connection to the surroundings. If you're going to put a stadium downtown, why not at least offer views of its skyline? (Something that Pittsburgh's Heinz Field does particularly well.)
Although I still prefer the Coliseum site, I'll give the AEG stadium some credit. Whereas some baseball stadiums have been masterfully integrated with their urban environments (Camden Yards, AT&T Park), football stadiums have never been quite so cozy. At least AEG's is not flung beyond the suburbs, divorced from the city that it represents (like New York's Meadowlands and Phoenix's U of P Stadium). It's even kind of close to transit (the Blue Line/Expo Line).
For all the strikes against it (oh yeah, there's also a recession going on, and LA has no football team), I have a gut feeling that this thing is going to happen. So dust off those overalls, jump on the light rail, and get ready for some football. The L.A. Tractors are coming to town.