July 30, 1997 - From the July, 1997 issue

A “New NFL Approved-Coliseum” in Exposition Park—Just Maybe!

The last phase of massive public investment in the region’s urban center saw the expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which many says has failed to deliver on promises of ancillary economic development. But the L.A. City Council’s recent decision to help finance a new Downtown sports arena is a sign of renewed confidence in the potential of such investments.

Building a new stadium to house an NFL franchise in Los Angeles seems to be the next priority for many local political heavyweights. And City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas wants to see it rise in Exposition Park, along the proposed “Figueroa Sports Corridor.” L.A. Kings co-owner and Downtown Arena developer Edward Roski, Jr. shares this vision of a New Coliseum inside the shell of the old. But doubts & doubters remain. 

Will images of the 1992 Riots/Civil Unrest frighten away the NFL? Will a larger economic development strategy help ensure a new stadium’s—and its surrounding community’s—viability? Can L.A. public & private leadership unify behind one proposal and one strategy? The Planning Report looks to Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ed Roski for insight into these emerging issues.


Mark Ridley-Thomas: “I echo Ed's comments that this will be one of the most significant revitalization efforts that the City of Los Angeles will have seen in the past fifty years.”

Mr. Roski, could you share with our readers your vision of how the development of a state-of-the-art facility and attraction for pro foot- ball in Los Angeles lit into a larger scale economic strategy for the Figueroa Corridor and for Down- town Los Angeles?

Ed Roski: It's critical to the future of the Corridor, and to the City. The Coliseum and USC form the southern anchors of a corridor that includes the new sports arena, the Convention Center, Downtown Los Angeles, and runs all the way up to Dodger Stadium. As the planned Downtown Sports Arena moves steadily forward, the Coliseum is the most critical element remaining to define the corridor and push it to the highest level.

Mark, your thoughts? 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: I echo Ed's comments that this will be one of the most significant revitalization efforts that the City of Los Angeles will have seen in the past fifty years. When you think about what will happen Downtown as a result of the arena development and what will happen south of the 10 Freeway, in Exposition Park and University Park, as a result of the tremendous investment already going on, there is no way to deny that this is an urban renaissance in the making. 

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said he attributed the NFL's reassessment of the Coliseum as a venue in Los Angeles to "a lot more information now about the rebuilding of Exposition Park." Could you, Councilman Ridley-Thomas, elaborate for our readers on what he was referring to?

Mark Ridley-Thomas: He is referring to roughly $1 billion of investment in Exposition Park. The master plan is coming to full fruition, and the greening of the Park is taking place. There will be a tree-lined promenade running along all four sides of the Park. The buildings of the California Science Center are nearing completion. A new regional elementary-level academy for math, arts, science and technology is on the horizon. A new IMAX theater is going in. There are plans on the table to substantially upgrade and renovate the swim stadium, the Olympic pool, the senior citizen's complex and the Park's youth center.

No other NFL venue is surrounded by this much fan-friendly excitement and promise, right next to a major university and the whole range of things that go with it, including convenient parking. The commissioner has begun to recognize this as a very, very promising scenario and a clear solution to the NFL's return to the Los Angeles market.

Ed Roski: One of the things that the NFL Commissioner was interested in is the freeway access. Maybe the Councilman can relate how that has changed the view of this location.

Mark Ridley-Thomas: Along with an HOV lane on the Harbor Freeway, there'll be three points of entry to the Coliseum: Exposition Boulevard, 39th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Two very important factors are freeway access and parking, and we've effectively addressed both.

To date, despite your optimistic tone, NFL team owners and even the L.A. Area's own Chamber of Commerce have reserved their support for a new football venue inside the shell of the Coliseum. What political support do you need in order to see the Coliseum endorsed, and how do you intend to get it? 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: The support of The Planning Report should do it (laughs). Really, we are enjoying very significant support, and it continues to grow. Nearly 400 individuals, businesses and organizations stepped forward and pledged their support for the New Coliseum. 

A more tangible test came in March when we surveyed L.A. County fans about bringing professional football back to the L.A. Coliseum. Sixty-one plus percent surveyed answered "strongly favorable", and an additional 27% answered "somewhat favorable"—that's 88% approval. This is very, very clear support from the fan base.

Rather extraordinary support for the concept was also displayed by corporations who, within the space of 72 hours after they went on sale, deposited or made commitments for 50 of the luxury suites in the new Coliseum. Interestingly, 70% of those 50 corporations happen to be members of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Ed, do you want to comment on the Chamber's recent failure to pass a resolution supporting the Coliseum as a NFL venue? 

Ed Roski: I wasn't at the meeting where the issue came up, but my understanding from the people who were there is that the question was brought up without a full understanding—everybody needed a bit more information on it. A vote was taken, but the vote wasn't unanimously in favor of the concept. Some of the people who represent major corporations needed to go back and check with their corporation. I'm confident that the next time it gets presented, it will win official support. 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: To add to Mr. Roski's point, the vole was not on the agenda. To pass the resolution of support would have required a two-thirds majority. Twenty people of the 32 present voted for the new Coliseum, three voted against it, and nine abstained. It shows an overwhelming majority of support—60% voted for it. When it's on the agenda in July, it will need a simple majority, and all indicators point to an affirmative vote. 

Let me once again ask: What do you really need, as the promoter of the Coliseum for professional football in Los Angeles, for there to be an approved stadium and an NFL team in Exposition Park in the near future? 

Ed Roski: Right now we're working on the financial profile for the project. We're accumulating all the data and information the NFL needs to make their decision. We will have this ready by the October NFL owners' meeting, at which time we'll present it to them.

And your expectations? 

Ed Roski: That they take it under review. I'm sure that they'll have some questions and some additional requests; and we hope they finalize their decision at their March, 1998 meeting. 

Mark, let me go back to one of the planning issues related to the Coliseum as a site for NFL football. L.A. City's planning is often criticized for being too project-by-project oriented rather than strategic and contextual, i.e., the Convention Center. How are the Coliseum development plans tied to an overall marketing, transportation and urban planning strategy for the area?

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Mark Ridley-Thomas: It's pretty clear that a lot of thought has gone into how the various pieces of this puzzle fit together. With all that is going in the Exposition Park facilities I referred to earlier, the return of NFL football would clearly be the centerpiece. It would spike the local employment and retail opportunities considerably. The Anderson School at UCLA has done a very careful review of the economic impact of these efforts, commissioned by the Sports and Entertainment Commission. 

And when you take into account the work the Community Redevelopment Agency has done, both in the residential and commercial environs around Exposition Park, it is clear how we are trying to integrate the planning processes more carefully to ensure a positive result. 

So we see this effort as having a very, very favorable local impact. But it is not limited to that. It will have regional impact—it will integrate the local community's concerns from a residential as well as a commercial perspective. It will take into consideration the interface with Figueroa on one side and Vermont on the other, providing well-appointed, pedestrian-friendly facade treatments and tree scaping. And it will connect Downtown and the Exposition Park University Park area along a sports and entertainment corridor in a way that has never been done before. 

There is a lot of thought being given to this. The USC School of Architecture, as well as the CRA and the MTA are currently studying the most appropriate transportation mode along the Figueroa corridor. We cannot be accused of not planning this out carefully. 

Many of the Sports Arena project's allies are bullish because it is expected that an Arena will be a 300 day-a-year venue that will revitalize downtown. The Coliseum for a football team, on the other hand, is an eight-Sunday-per-year prospect. Does a football stadium merit public investment? Is it an economic stimulus for Los Angeles? 

Ed Roski: It really represents much more activity than eight Sundays. You have to consider USC's playing there, major league Soccer, concerts, and all the other major events that will be held at the Coliseum. You're looking at an excess of forty events a year. Those are significant numbers.

As a private investor-developer for both the Coliseum and the Arena, do you see them as equivalent economic stimuli? 

Ed Roski: Yes, when you have a venue of this size—65,000 to 70,000 people—average attendance is around 50,000 for all events. All of the sudden the numbers start getting very close to what the arena is projected to do. 

Ed, I wonder if you could comment on the cries for public ownership of a sports franchise in Los Angeles; especially if there's going to be a request for public subsidy. 

Ed Roski: I don't think that is acceptable to the NFL today. 

Even in light of Green Bay's success? 

Ed Roski: Green Bay was an anomaly, and will probably continue to be. I have no reason to believe that the NFL is willing to do that again. 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: One has to be reminded of when the Green Bay transaction took place, and what similar events have taken place since then in the League—that answers the question. Ed makes a very valid point about this issue: this is just not the way stadiums are being built today, nor the way teams are signing up. 

We want to make sure we have a scenario that is viable. Municipal ownership isn't a viable approach. 

You both are familiar with the local government approval process for the Arena. With whatever lessons you've learned from the former, do we have a friendly governmental structure in Los Angeles or do we need to change things to facilitate major development projects like this? What are your comments on the role of L.A. City government in partnering with the private sector to invest in infrastructure? 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: You can assess these projects only on a case-by-case basis. That said, the experience of the New Coliseum will be very different from that of the sports and entertainment complex next to the Convention Center. It has a lot to do with the approach that the Coliseum has taken, and the extent to which there's a public-private partnership from the very start.

Ed Roski: I agree that the Coliseum will be a very different political process from the Arena. With the arena, we were working only with Los Angeles City. But the process surrounding the Coliseum will include entities from the City, the County and the State.

I think that everybody—both on the political and private sector sides—is 100% committed to making this work, though. And as long as we keep that commitment going, it will work. 

Any closing comments? 

Mark Ridley-Thomas: This is a great project. It's going to have a tremendous positive effect on the City of Los Angeles, and it will very soon be recognized as one of the region's premier destinations.

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