Building the momentum to build Farmers Field hasn't been rolling smoothly enough to satisfy Tim Leiweke. He's still looking for cheerleaders. Skeptical politicians and economists need not apply.
Leiweke is the CEO of AEG, the entertainment conglomerate planning to put up a $1.4-billion football stadium next to AEG's basketball arena and AEG's hotel and entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.
Oddly, Leiweke's whinging came in the same week that the city council enthusiastically approved a project that will benefit AEG even if the stadium is never built.
The city has already allocated about $10 million to return streetcars to downtown; another $40-$50 million in public funding has been promised. The rest - about half of the $125 million construction cost - is supposed to come from the properly owners along the proposed route from Temple to Pico. The route includes a wide loop west from Broadway past AEG's properties and the Los Angeles Convention Center.
A streetcar to his doorstep does not satisfy Leiweke's desire, however. He's still complaining that not enough political juice for a stadium has been forthcoming from the mayor's office and the city council. They should be "cheerleaders for the private sector" he recently told an audience of vendors who sell stuff to stadium operators and developers.
Leiweke was probably thinking of Council Member Bill Rosendahl. His list of hard questions about AEG's stadium deal has gotten no response from the mayor's committee of carefully chosen cheerleaders who are supposed to evaluate AEG's business plan and hold Leiweke to his pledge that no public money will be spent on the project.
But public money is being spent to make the project happen, money that might be better spent to improve the condition of downtown's low-income residents, not the conditions in the corporate skyboxes at Farmers Field.
The city will spend about $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to partially subsidize the relocation of the Santa Monica office of the architectural firm AEG has chosen to design Farmers Field. The city also will give the company a three-year business tax "holiday" after it moves to new, downtown offices.
The mayor's office has touted the move and subsidies as job creators, and the company has promised to hire locally. But the move is only a few miles, making the promise a hollow one. Worse, the city's subsidy is nearly half the $2.2 million in federal block funding allocated to City Council District 9, where the architectural office will be relocated.
District 9 has great disparities of wealth and poverty, and many who live in the district are homeless or the working poor.
Federal block grant funds are supposed to benefit low-income and elderly residents, but the rules are flexible and the amount of the subsidy is relatively small. Except, of course, if you're a family living on the street or in a shelter.
In the interest of citizen engagement, program managers had met earlier this year with District 9 residents to get their recommendations for federally-funded projects. They proposed using District 9's share of block grant funding to help Skid Row residents start a car wash or plant gardens to improve the nutrition of poor families or clear abandoned industrial sites.
The poor will, instead, have the opportunity to gape at the hip new offices of a prestige architectural firm with very close ties to AEG.
What, you're still not cheering? Where's your team spirit?
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.