Los Angeles took a major step Friday toward building a downtown stadium to lure a National Football League team back to the nation's second most populous city, despite questions about how a 72,000-seat venue in the city's urban core would impact notorious freeway traffic, nearby housing prices and air quality.
The 12-0 vote by City Council came after starkly contrasting predictions about what the $1.5 billion US project would mean for an economically troubled city that has fretted over the loss of professional football since the Raiders and Rams fled Southern California in 1994.
Supporters said the deal with developer Anschutz Entertainment Group would create thousands of jobs, a centre of civic pride and new tax dollars for cash-starved City Hall, while critics warned that nearby housing prices would soar and traffic would come to a virtual standstill on game days.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement after the vote that it demonstrates "what we can accomplish when the city family joins together with private partners in a transformational development."
"This is truly a game changer for Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said.
The vote was overshadowed by the recent announcement that AEG was seeking a new owner, though company officials have assured City Hall the stadium plan will remain the same, even if the company changes hands.
The biggest question about the stadium is the most obvious: There's no one to play in it. But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other supporters hope the agreement will eventually attract a team to one of the nation's most lucrative media markets.
AEG, also the owner of Los Angeles' Staples Center arena and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, has deep ties to City Hall. Any deal to buy the company, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Co., would mean a major shift in sports and entertainment in the region and around the world.
AEG's holdings include pro soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, part-ownership of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, and major entertainment and real estate holdings in downtown Los Angeles. Outside the city, AEG owns Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo and all or part of several arenas around the U.S. and in Sweden, China and Australia.
The project, which calls for the renovation of an adjacent convention centre, is facing a lawsuit filed by anti-poverty and environmental activists that some predict could delay or derail plans for the stadium, known as Farmers Field. The activist group, Play Fair at Farmers Field Coalition, is challenging a state law intended to help swiftly resolve legal challenges to the stadium, and it also wants AEG to pay $60 million toward affordable housing in the long-struggling downtown neighbourhood.
There are some risky assumptions. In a city where everyone drives, planners predict many fans will leave their vehicles at home and travel to the stadium by bus or rail.
A rival group, Majestic Realty, has proposed building a stadium in the City of Industry, outside Los Angeles.
AEG is hoping to have an NFL team on the field by the 2017 season. The company has pledged about $35 million to reduce traffic problems.