- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles has been waiting for an NFL team for the past 15 years. Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of AEG, doesn't want to wait much longer. He is hoping to reach an agreement with the City of Los Angeles and the NFL for a team to move into a new $1 billion stadium in Downtown Los Angeles in the next three months.
"I am very focused on this," Leiweke said during a luncheon for Central City Association of Los Angeles. "I spend most of every waking hour on the NFL. I'm going to tell you this; we're going to give this our best shot in the next two to three months."
Los Angeles real estate developer Ed Roski has been trying to lure an NFL team back to Los Angeles for the past decade and currently has a competing proposal for a stadium in The City of Industry. Artist renderings of the proposed $800 million, 75,000-seat stadium, which has been fully entitled, have been around for over two years.
Leiweke announced AEG is currently in the process of an architectural review for a retractable roof stadium and expects to cut the current list of 12 submitted designs to two by next week before choosing an architect in January. Leiweke, however, promised he wouldn't be showing off models and drawings of the proposed stadium for the next couple of years while the city and league continue to drag their feet.
"I applaud [Roski] for his ten years worth of this vision but we're not going to hang around for 10 years," Leiweke said. "We're going to try to get this done in the next three months. If we can get an agreement with the city and if we can get an agreement with the NFL and if we can identify a team, we'll take risks on the vote of the [NFL] owners a year from now or two years from now on whether that team can move here. That's a risk we'll take. But if we can get the first three -- an agreement with the city, an agreement with the league and at least an understanding of the team we're going to do this."
Leiweke's vision is to build the stadium where the current West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center is and have it sit between the Staples Center and a renovated Cherry Street parking garage with Pico Boulevard and 11th Street completing its boundaries. A new $350 million convention wing attached to the modern convention center would be completed before the West Hall was torn down.
"A 65,000-seat stadium fits quite nicely on that site," Leiweke said.
Leiweke said he is currently negotiating the deal with the city and is optimistic it will get done and expects to begin the entitlement process for the stadium in January.
"We have to come to an agreement with the city and we are negotiating with the city," Leiweke said. "It's not a difficult negotiation."
What has proven to be a difficult negotiation in the past has been getting the NFL onboard with getting a team back to Los Angeles. Leiweke said this won't be a problem with AEG head and billionaire investor Philip Anschutz behind the project.
"We are partners with most of the NFL owners," Leiweke said, citing AEG's involvement with Major League soccer and various sports and entertainment events in venues owned by NFL owners. "[New England Patriots owner] Bob Kraft and Mr. Anschutz saved soccer in this country. Trust me when I tell you [Kansas City Chiefs owner] Clark Hunt, the Kraft family and Mr. Anschutz have a great deal in common with the way they operate business. They would love to have Mr. Anschutz in the league. They're helping us carry this vision out. We're close to [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones and he has adopted our vision and get's it and he's very involved. We deal with most of the NFL owners."
Leiweke would like the stadium completed in time for the 2015 NFL season and ready to host the 50th Super Bowl, after the first Super Bowl was hosted down Figueroa Street at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Leiweke understands no NFL team will move to Los Angeles until their current labor dispute is resolved. It will be at least a year before the league could approve a transfer but Leiweke simply wants to have a framework in place to get started on the project.
Leiweke said AEG doesn't need to own an NFL team to start construction on the downtown stadium and shot down reports Anschutz had purchased a percentage of the San Diego Chargers. AEG, however, certainly isn't averse to an ownership role in whatever team moves to Los Angeles with Magic Johnson and entertainment executive Casey Wasserman partnering with AEG to serve as the prominent local owners the NFL would like to have in Los Angeles.
AEG has other interests in mind by building a new multi-purpose stadium, which would not only serve as the home of an NFL team but also Super Bowls, Final Fours and conventions. After spending $1 billion on a 54-story JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hybrid tower, which encompasses hotel rooms, residences, convention space and restaurants, AEG would like to see Los Angeles become one of top event and convention destinations in the country. If they can get an NFL team while they fill up all the rooms and restaurants they've built at LA Live, well, that's great too.
"I'm a huge fan of [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell but we believe in the event, convention and tourism business even more," Leiweke said.
Leiweke, however, knows the stadium cannot get done without the NFL and believes he can accomplish in three months what countless others have failed to do since the Rams and Raiders left town in 1994.
"I believe what we need out of the NFL we can get out of the NFL," Leiweke said. "I do not think they will be an issue because they understand the risk of putting up a billion dollars to privatize a stadium here. They want to help and they want to get it done. They want to come back to LA. We'll get a deal done with the NFL."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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