October 30, 1996 - From the October, 1996 issue

City of Inglewood Contests for Sports Arena & Urban Renewal

While the quest for a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex in both Los Angeles and Inglewood continues, many question the wisdom of such a competition. As a central player in the competition for an arena, and as the 20-year home of the Great Western Forum, the City of Inglewood can offer a useful perspective on such a competition. As one of the few fully-urbanized cities on the western edge of Los Angeles, and located directly adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport, Inglewood feels the impact of many of Los Angeles’ policy decisions. 

TPR is pleased to present an interview with Tony DeBellis, Inglewood’s Deputy City Manager, on the opportunities and challenges Inglewood faces. DeBellis has been with the City of Inglewood for 18 years, and oversees the Planning, Building, Redevelopment and Housing Departments.

It appears that the City of Los Angeles and Inglewood are the two finalists in a cross-town rivalry for a new sprots and entertainment complex. Inglewood has offered an additional $30 million in incentives. Has the competition between the two cities been healthy, or at the expense of the cities’ taxpayers?

Much as we do in a number of activities in cities today, cities are also competing for revenue generators, and the competition has been at the expense of both cities. 

The development companies offering to build the arenas are owned by multimillionaires. One has to wonder about the value of putting significant public money into these types of projects. 

However, unlike the City of Los Angeles, the Arena has to be a good business deal for us. We are not willing to throw money at it. The money we put on the table is revenue that would be generated by the arena. 

Although no decisions have yet been mode, what is your prognosis about the future location of the sports arena? 

My heart tells me Inglewood, but my head tells me that it will be very difficult for us to compete with Los Angeles. 

Tony, in the last few weeks we have heard a great deal about the benefits of an arena in downtown Los Angeles, such as a "Sports Corridor" along Figueroa Blvd. Give our readers the Inglewood perspective on the value of an arena. What is Inglewood's pitch to its constituents? 

Our pitch is that The Great Western Forum has been one of our corporate neighbors for almost 30 years, and we have done well by them. Inglewood is set up with all the infrastructure necessary to support the proposed facility. We have the freeways, parking and ancillary services already in place. I would question whether Los Angeles will be able to have that kind of infrastructure in place within the time frame the arena developers are talking about.

A large portion of the arena's customers come from the South Bay, north Orange County and Long Beach areas, and are quite accustomed to driving up the 405 freeway into Inglewood. These customers face the prospect of having to compete with the traffic moving through downtown Los Angeles. We are set up to handle the arena. 

Ultimately, the choice the developers will have to make is whether they want to be a large fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond. 

As someone who has experience dealing with large sports venues, share with our readers your perspective on the concept of a Figueroa Sports Corridor? Can it happen in Los Angeles? 

I do not believe so. There is a certain amount of racism involved in making a determination whether or not to use the Coliseum. That is part of what the area around the Coliseum suffers from. Local officials will not talk about it, but many people feel "uncomfortable" attending a venue in that location.

If Los Angeles is unable to get a new stadium within the coliseum, they won't have much of a sports corridor. 

Hollywood Park made a surprise announcement a few weeks ago that they were abandoning their efforts to bring NFL football to Inglewood. How should this announcement be interpreted? 

Hollywood Park is a corporation run by a Board of Directors. The City of Inglewood was not directly involved in that decision. I personally do not know why they made that decision, or if that decision is solid. 

However, if (or when) the Coliseum were to be rejected by the NFL, and since we already have a certified environmental impact report which will allow the development of a stadium in Inglewood, I fully expect Hollywood Park would be back in the hunt. 

There are 330 acres on the Hollywood Park facility in an otherwise densely urbanized area. They could use those acres in any number of ways. There are a number of other parties interested in the land. 

Given that interest, we weren't completely surprised by Hollywood Park's announcement. 

Shifting to another high profile land use issue within Inglewood, LAX recently announced that they are eliminating from their list of expansion possibilities, expansion into the Santa Monica Bay. How is Inglewood impacted by the elimination of this westward option? 

Los Angeles International has always been a boon and a bane for us. Being close to LAX has allowed us to locate air freight operators and car rental dealerships in those areas of Inglewood adjacent to LAX that we have been trying to redevelop. 

LAX has also been a bane to us. Probably about half of the City is impacted by jet overflights and much of the City lies within the 65 CNEL (Community Noise Equivalent Level) contour, which means that we have a number of places that need to be recycled and/or insulated. This requires a great deal of money. 


What then is Inglewood's position on the LAX expansion? 

Because of our proximity, if LAX decides to expand eastward, toward Inglewood, the expansion would expand the noise contours deeper into our City—especially the higher noise contours, at a 70-75 level, which would impose greater noise impacts on those residents already being impacted. 

It costs twice as much to insulate a house in a noise contour of 70 and 75 as it does one in a 65 noise contour. We would insist that funding be made available to us from LAX if an eastward expansion is chosen. 

The proposal that would have the best impact on the City of Inglewood has already been rejected. That best-case proposal would be one where LAX conducted all over-ocean operations. That would provide absolute relief to Inglewood. 

Inglewood's decision to use its federal noise mitigation funding for land recycling rather than sound insulation has caused some backlash. What is at issue here? 

As far as the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Airports are concerned, both sound insulation and land recycling are equally qualified as mitigation projects. Land recycling involves the acquisition of residential land close to the airport and converting it to industrial or commercial uses.

Lately there has been concern that there was no money being used for insulation; rather, all the money was being spent on recycling. The dialog within the City now is to come up with a formula for dividing the money into both uses, and forcing LAX to provide more funding. 

We will be bringing to the council within October a proposal to divide future funding between acquisition and sound insulation. 

Inglewood recently consolidated its redevelopment areas into one major redevelopment project which encompasses as much as 20% of the City. What is the status of the redevelopment project, and what are the benefits of combining the projects into one? 

The redevelopment project consolidation process has been completed. The consolidation allows us to take the funds from any one of the areas and use the money in any of the other areas. Just two years ago we adopted a corridor that runs from Century to Imperial along Prairie Avenue and along Imperial Avenue from Prairie east. These are the entries to the sports venues in Inglewood, and are much in need of redevelopment.

We annexed some land from the County to square our border and be able to address both sides of Prairie Avenue. We have no money in these areas because the tax increment flow takes some time to amount to a level that can be useful. With this consolidation we can use some of the money from our older projects, some of which are 25 years old, to begin working on the newer projects, rather than waiting several years to take action. 

Have you found redevelopment to be an efficient and useful tool for urban development?

When I came to Inglewood in I 977, this was one of the few communities in Los Angeles County whose property tax base was declining. This was an outgrowth of the white flight taking place during those years. Redevelopment has provided the opportunity for us to bring jobs and commercial opportunities to our residents. I don't think we would have been able to effect those changes as quickly as we did without the tools of redevelopment. 

How much of the problem lies in the relationship between state and local government in the aftermath, intended or unintended, of Proposition 13, and your ability to control your revenues, and thus your expenses, as a problem in the City charter. Is the state-City relationship a problem? 

A major outgrowth of Proposition 13 is that cities are forced to compete for principally commercial enterprises that would bring sales tax revenues into the general fund. There is less emphasis on the industrial and manufacturing base. As a result, we are less balanced as a community because we are focused on those that will bring money into the general fund to support city services. In the end, this serves as a detriment to all of us, and we continue to feel the effects of this competition. 

Tony, share with us Inglewood's vision for the next five years. 

We both know that much rests on the outcome of the next six weeks, and our ability to retain a major venue that we have. Let's assume that we are able to maintain our existing venue and attract a new sports venue. Our vision over the next five years will be to develop a new sports and entertainment complex in the Hollywood Park-Forum area. 

But regardless of the future of these sports venues, we will continue to try to revitalize our downtown area, and commercial corridors. We will try to provide more opportunities for light industry, manufacturing, air freight, and services related to the airport. Much of our population is already employed in these sectors, and we expect these sectors to grow as the airport expands.

We anticipate working closely with LAX and FAA over the next five years to mitigate the effects of an expansion, and continue to make ourselves a viable community. 

Ultimately, our goal is to be positive and be a can-do City.


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