By Richard Risemberg
September, 2011–Los Angeles has been without a National Football League team for many many years now, having lost both the Rams and Raiders to other cities.
In truth, the void has not really been noticeable, except in the traffic congestion that does not occur on what would be game days, and the city’s economy has not been appreciably damaged by the loss of a handful of jobs selling hot dogs and sweeping latrines. (If only Wall Street’s vigor had been as unharmful as the NFL’s sluggishness!)
Nevertheless, every decade or so up pops a billionaire, or a corporation hopeful of sponsorship rights, or a consortium of well-connected busybodies of some sort, all stridently assserting that Los Angeles simply cannot consider itself a real city without a football stadium!
Preferably, of course, one highly subsidized by the public purse….
This last happened way back in the early oughts, and in February of 2003, I wrote the following obsevations on the matter:
Build what parking there must be underground, so the stadium can front directly on the street all around, rather than sit isolated in an asphalt desert. Then you can site seven-day-a-week small businesses around its ground floor perimeter, making it a vital part of the community even when there is no game on–which would be most of the time.
I don’t mean sports-related businesses, I must emphasize that. Nor yet another iteration of chainstore-dependency syndrome. I mean community businesses that have no necessary referent to the stadium itself, but merely use it as a location. I mean coffeehouses, diners, dry cleaners, internet cafés, drugstores, clothing boutiques, bookstores, camera and electronic shops, a bar, what have you. And public entities as well: why not a police substation, a library, a senior citizens center (combine with a youth center for best results); even a school, which could use the field when the teams aren’t scheduled on it–think of the thrill for the kids! Many of these businesses could have counters on the inside where they would serve stadium patrons on the lower concourse on the few game days of the year, when the stadium would actually operate as a stadium, rather than as a hole in the urban fabric, which all of them presently are, most days.
I still hold to that view. The stadium must not become a hulking mausoelum on the vast majority of days in the year that it will host no games. And it must not become an excuse to obliterate yet more of LA’s prime downtown real estate under parking lots, and crush streets and neighborhoods with periodic avalanches of private cars.
Back in 2003, the sites under consideration were Exposition Park, Union Station, or the Staples Center. At the time I favored Union Station, because of the transit connections. This time, I think that the Staples Center–the only site under serious consideration by AEG, who is pushing hard for this project–has a chance at succeeding. The upcoming downtown Regional Connector will link up Metro’s Red/Purple, Blue, Gold, and Expo lines for no-transfer travel, by train, directly to the site from Santa Monica, Pasadena, Foothill, the Valley, East Los Angeles, and Long Beach, and everyplace in between. This includes dozens of communities: Culver City, Compton, Carson, Watts, Hollywood, North Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, West Adams, Los Feliz, and more. One transfer from the Green Line serves other districts form Norwalk to redondo Beach and el Segundo. Connections from Metrolink tie in outer suburbs from Palmdale to Ventura to San Clemente, and Amtrak, which runs special trains already to Angels games in Anaheim, could do the same for whatever LA’s eventual football team is called.
If LA has any brains, it will build this thing–if it builds this thing–without any public parking at all. (Downtown already has parking for far more cars than the streets can handle.) Park-and-ride lots present at many Metro Rail stations would disperse the effect of game-day traffic, and many people, perhaps most, wouldn’t have to drive at all. We’d have to move the current Blue Line station closer, and enlarge it–right now its walkways are already too narrow for rush-hour crowds–but a lot of people could get off at the 7th Street Red/Purple/Blue lines station which would be a ten-minute walk from the stadium. Dozens of bus lines serve the area as well.
And, as long as you built community commerce into the perimeter as I suggested nearly ten years ago–and as the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park and the Pittsburgh Priates’ PNC stadium have already done–you might have something that actually does contribute to the local economy and the street life of downtown, all year round.
We can only hope.