By Jonathan Wilcox, guest columnist
Randy Newman may still be singing “I love L.A.”, but these days he might be in smaller company than ever.
With the unemployment rate t nearly 14 12 percent and budget deficits the soar past $1 billion in two years, no one seemed shocked when former Mayor Richard Riordan casually predicted Los Angeles would be bankrupt by 2014. In fact, the strongest disagreement came from economists who believe Riordan is dead wrong: The city will go belly up at least a year earlier.
Knowing this, Angelenos can be expected to do what they always do when the going gets tough: Embrace our local sports teams. But even that refuge is being eroded.
The city is still very much in cringe-mode from the shocking scenes of violence, destruction and mayhem that marked the immediate aftermath of this year’s Lakers’ championship win. From the beginning, city politicians have falsely claimed that what happened was a form spontaneous combustion. It wasn’t.
I was there at noon on the day of Game 7. Thousands of people had already started gathering near the Staples Center, at least six hours before tipoff. Hardly any of them had tickets. It may have been the first slow-motion riot in history.
The list of victims of the riotous rampage go far beyond the shopkeepers, hotels, restaurants and loft lobbies that just happened to be within a thrown-brick’s distance of the savage mob.
And the biggest loser may in fact be Anschutz Entertainment Group (known in these parts by the familiar AEG), the owner of the Staples Center and its mega-development L.A. Live, which includes the arena, adjacent Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Hotels, the Emmy-hosting Nokia Center and several higher-end eateries.
Quite an array in one place, but for AEG, it’s not enough. What’s their next big idea? Tear down the West Hall portion of the Los Angeles Convention Center (mere steps from the Staples Center) and build a new NFL stadium there.
AEG should forgive if the public – having seen what a basketball game can produce – is a bit hesitant about a football-sized crowd that could be at least five-times larger.
Before the post-game Lakers riot, this had a real chance of succeeding. But now important questions are being asked, leading to more than a few second thoughts.
The West Hall contains about 250,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space and its demolition would automatically eliminate the center’s ability to attract any national conventions or meaningful trade shows (such as the highly successful Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 – which happened to be at the Convention Center the day of the riot).
According to media reports, the proposed demolition would occur in 2-3 years. Seem like a long way off? Major conventions and trade shows routinely utilize that much lead time, and while other conventions already booked during this period would likely have to relocate to other cities, wouldn’t L.A. have to pay millions in damages to these booked conventions and trade shows?
This also ignores the financial realities the Convention Center is today: nearly half-a-billion in debt, but employing 130 people; a realistic candidate for privatization, but locked into deals where 15 of its 16 facilities are government-run.
Even if all these obstacles could be cleared, the proposed stadium would be woefully short of parking for a football game for a city that embraces its cars as birthright.
It is difficult to believe this idea could survive even passing public scrutiny. But public scrutiny is not how things get done downtown, where the real power is wielded far out of sight. That’s where AEG throws as much weight around as anyone.
Now, a few pictures may be worth even a thousand lobbyists. And the singular image that has captured the aftermath of the violence is that of Abraham Teferi – an Ethiopian immigrant and taxi driver who was stopped by the mob and dragged from the cab, which was then set on fire.
AEG’s president and CEO Tim Leiweke flamboyantly presented Teferi with a check for $10,000, saying, “On behalf of all the knuckleheads, we apologize and hopefully that helps you get on your feet a little bit.”
What a missed opportunity for situational seriousness. Those were no knuckleheads on the streets that night. It was a vicious gathering of violent criminals unopposed by police that nearly murdered Teferi and terrorized scores of others.
Whatever naming rights and concession deals the city may get out of a football stadium next to the Staples Center, many believe it will more than give it all back.
Hear that? It’s the sound a foundation cracking, with gleaming L.A. Live, the JW Marriott and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant giving way to the chilling images of tens of thousands of Angelenos (some carrying Mexican flags) taking to the streets to destroy their city.
Is a football stadium one tight spiral away from the worst of the rioting something to consider right now? If history repeats itself, will Tim Leiweke be there to hand us a check, pat us on the head and help us get back on our feet a little bit?