New Forum, Old Neighborhood: A Good Mix?

Talk about adding insult to long-standing injury.

Yesterday's L.A. Times Calendar piece on the impending rebirth of the Forum considers its chances of seriously competing with the 800-pound gorilla known as the Staples Center for favored-concert venue status.

The Forum, which is winding up its $75 million facelift by new owners Madison Square Garden, has various things going for it: a new look, a storied past that includes performances by a who's-who list of rock and pop artists, an intimate setting that those artists evidently prefer (Prince did. When he swung through SoCal a few years back, he camped out at the Forum and offered scandalously low-priced tickets, some as low as $25, so that virtually anyone could go. I doubt skybox-conscious Staples would have done the same.) The Eagles are slated to kick off the Forum renaissance in January, followed by a range of acts from Justin Timberlake to more recent phenoms like Imagine Dragons.

Sounds like a good start. Of course, the biggest risk factor that the story suggests but doesn't say outright is the fact that the new and improved Forum is located not in newly hip downtown, but in Inglewood. That's not a new fact; it's been here since it opened in 1967. But Inglewood was different then, still mostly white and comfortably suburban. It's neither now. That's not to say it's a wasteland, far from it, but re-branding the Forum to folks who may not have experienced its glory days is evidently a new challenge for MSG and a riddle for the live-entertainment business generally.

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Gary Bongiovanni, a concert-industry publication editor quoted in the Times story, put it this way. "They're investing a lot of money in making the Forum a permanent concert venue, which is going to give it some advantages. That won't take it out of Inglewood, but it will affect the quality of the shows that they can put in there."

Ouch. In other words, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the Forum's new lease on life will likely be the neighborhood in which it's located. I'm not naïve. I am entirely used to my city's pervasively negative image, which was an issue for the majority of time the Lakers and Kings were here. But to be an official liability not even worthy of further discussion (Randy Lewis' story had no response to Bongiovanni's damning comment) was, I admit, jarring.

This is the biggest construction project Inglewood has seen in many years, one that the financially imperiled city helped out with an $18 million loan of public money. The rehab of the Forum is something that Inglewood-ians like me have watched over the months with great interest, tempered with some anxiety about the fact that the sprawling grounds of the Forum were fenced off and unavailable to us for the first time in as long as I can remember, maybe the first time ever. No bike riding or walking dogs or working out or even just taking the place in as you drove past on Manchester, Prairie, or 90th Street. Its unavailability was disorienting because the Forum is our civic focal point and always has been; truly, the city has felt smaller. The fact that we will soon be losing another landmark, the neighboring Hollywood Park race track, compounded the feeling.

I know that the big-city neighborhoods where big sports or concert venues operate tend not to be glamorous -- look at the Coliseum in South Central. Over the years, two of the places where investors were considering building a new football stadium to lure the NFL back to L.A. were Carson and Irwindale. But those places are regarded as faceless, not dangerous or detrimental to the success of a place like the Forum. That's why they were considered. You wouldn't necessarily hang around Carson or Irwindale after a game, but you wouldn't automatically fear them, either. It's clear that the Times story was suggesting that the Forum, rather than enhancing Inglewood or helping it in its own efforts to re-brand, has to overcome it.

We'll see. I don't know if the Eagles are going to excite anybody around here, though I was a Don Henley fan in the '70s. I don't look forward to the blocked streets and traffic snarls that always accompanied Forum events. Overcoming works both ways.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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