Lead Story Professional Sports West Edition

Rams returning to L.A., stadium wars over

INGLEWOOD — In a decision that had one city celebrating in the streets and that thoroughly disappointed another one, the National Football League Jan. 12 announced that the St. Louis Rams would return to Southern California next season.

The Rams will play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next three seasons while an 80,000-seat, $1.86 billion stadium is being built at the site of the former Hollywood Park Racetrack — a site that is expected to be the centerpiece of an already under-development commercial complex on the nearly 300-acre site.

NFL owners chose the Inglewood site over a competing site in Carson that would have housed the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers.

As a consolation, the Chargers were given a one-year option to share the Inglewood site with the Rams if they are unable to come up with a satisfactory stadium plan in San Diego.

If the Chargers decide not to join the Rams by this time next year, the Raiders will receive a similar one-year option to relocate to Inglewood.

The announcement, which came from Houston, Texas, where all 32 NFL owners gathered for what was scheduled to be a two-day meeting, sent Ram fans into celebration mode. Hundreds of them gathered near the demolished Hollywood Park site wearing old jerseys, carrying banners and signs and cheering the decision.

One of the fans carried a gigantic head of Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the man who is bringing back the Rams after a 21-year absence.

People in Carson, who were buoyed by early word out of Houston that the NFL’s Committee on Los Angeles had recommended the Carson stadium on a 5-1 vote, were devastated by the news that broke around 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Carson Mayor Albert Robles thanked the NFL and Carson’s partners, the Chargers and Raiders, for the opportunity to participate in the competition to build a pro football stadium in Southern California.

“This NFL bidding process has put Carson on the map as a city that has the wherewithal to compete in the big leagues for development opportunities,” Robles said in a statement. “In just a few short months, our city attorney’s office and the council put together one of the most complicated transactions in Southern California in decades.

“Carson will now re-start our original plan for building out our 157-acre property in partnership with one of the nation’s largest commercial developers,” Robles added.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts was elated.

“This is a transformative moment in the history of Inglewood,” Butts said. “We are honored to be the vessel that returned history and the legacy of the NFL to the region. This will be the most magnificent sports entertainment complex in the country.”

In the end, the NFL owners voted 30-2 by secret ballot to accept the Rams’ proposal for an Inglewood stadium.

Plans for the stadium were announced almost exactly one year ago by officials with the Hollywood Park Land Co.

The stadium project was originally a 238-acre, 4-million-square-foot retail, office, hotel and residential project that was approved by the city of Inglewood in 2009.

When Kroenke joined forces with Hollywood Park Land Co., the project was expanded by 60 acres to include the proposed stadium and a 6,000-seat “performance venue.”

Last February, the Inglewood City Council unanimously approved the stadium plans on the site, in response to a petition drive that gave the council the choice of holding an election on the project or simply approving it outright.

But two months after Inglewood voted to build a stadium, the Raiders and the Chargers partnered with the city of Carson to develop plans for a rival stadium, giving the league two options to return to the Los Angeles market that was vacated by the Rams and the Raiders after the 1994 NFL season.

Like Inglewood, the Carson City Council acted quickly, gathering petitions that allowed the city to skip a public vote on the project.

The Carson project, though, was smaller in scope than Inglewood’s and was also situated on the site of a former landfill that still needed soil remediation.

The Inglewood stadium plan had its own hurdle to clear when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a report that said the proposed stadium might interfere with radar from nearby Los Angeles International Airport. Stadium architects, city officials and the FAA are still trying to find a compromise that will address FAA concerns.

Carson’s Mayor Robles mentioned that issue in his concession statement.

“If the league must revisit this issue, Carson stands ready,” Robles said. “Our site will be exclusively available as a stadium site until at least April when our current agreement with the Chargers and Raiders expires.

“After April, for the first time ever, the city will be in complete control of the destiny of this shovel-ready, hugely valuable, strategically located property,” Robles added. “We have been in talks with a nationally prominent developer who has been patiently waiting in the wings. Now we can turn our focus to completing those negotiations. We are excited about this new opportunity.”

The Inglewood stadium, according to the development agreement will be funded entirely with private funds. Inglewood residents and the city will pay no taxes or subsidies for stadium construction.

The developers estimate the project could generate at least $25 million in new revenue for the city annually.

Once the city begins collecting revenues from the site, however, “the initiative allows for a contingent reimbursement of public costs advanced by the landowner for public services and infrastructure” — such as widened sidewalks, water and sewer systems, public parks, street lights, traffic lights and other road improvements, according to the city.

The reimbursements will be paid only after the city earns at least $25 million in tax revenue from the project each year.

In other words, if the city collects $30 million in tax revenue from the stadium in a year, the city would keep $25 million, and the remaining $5 million would be used to reimburse the developer for public infrastructure costs, according to the city. The reimbursements would continue until all of the developer’s up-front costs for public infrastructure have been covered, after which the city would keep all revenue from the project, according to city documents.

The city noted that the $25 million in revenue estimated for the city each year is roughly 30 percent of the city’s existing general fund budget.

City News Service contributed to this story.