By Anthony Carfello with Orhan Ayyüce as curating editor
Over the past year, Los Angeles’ local news media and blogosphere have provided up-to-the-minute coverage of a new plan by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the professional sports and concert conglomerate behind several of the world’s entertainment venues, like The O2 arena in London, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Califonia, and Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai(1). CEO of AEG Tim Leiweke has proposed construction of a 68,000-seat(2) football stadium on the site of one existing wing of the Los Angeles Convention Center, adjacent to the campus of AEG’s already built and operating Staples Center, Nokia Theater, Grammy Museum, and ESPN Zone (as part of their L.A. Live complex), along Figueroa Street in the southwestern part of downtown.
Farmers Field, named after highest bidder Farmers Insurance Company, initially entered the civic consciousness on December 15, 2010, when AEG revealed architectural renderings by the three firms (Gensler, HKS, and HNTB) competing then as finalists to design the stadium.
Since then, the Los Angeles Times, Daily News, La Opinión, KPCC, LA Weekly, Daily Breeze, Los Angeles Downtown News, LAist.com, KTLA, LA Observed.com, KCET, local branches of larger media outlets, and the like, not to mention the output from public relations pros, have provided the sole forum for anything approximate to an extended conversation about the stadium.(3)(4)
From describing the prospective teams to showcasing Gensler’s selected design (with deployable roof and resemblance to shoulder pads) to clarifying or touting the building’s green credentials and transit plans to repeating the anticipated 10-30,000 jobs that the stadium would produce in downtown to cautiously supporting or outright lobbying for AEG’s easy pitch to the City Council’s ad hoc committee to declaration of Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of a bill that will expedite legal challenges to Farmers Field via the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), L.A. media have been the de facto voice of the project more so than any city leader or even AEG (and in that case, more so than AEG could have ever hoped).
In all that coverage, though, there has been a dearth of tough questioning or knowledgeable advocacy. Development industry civilians who’ve sought a resolute position, seeking reporting that won’t settle for an aggregate of Tim Leiweke’s sound bites on the stadium’s unquestionable greatness and eventual triumph over “cavemen” (citizens against virtually everything)(5) have had little selection. Wondering what percentage of the thousands of jobs will be temporary or involve the fulltime serving of hotdogs is just met with stock phrases about these being tough times. Anyone looking for economic scrutiny of Leiweke’s simplistic formula/dangling carrot (Farmers Field=new convention center=gobs of conventioneer cash and commercial prosperity rippling through downtown) finds, at the deepest level, an AEG-produced animated video celebrating a fictional, spendthrift tourist.(6)
Searching for someone to prove that Los Angeles needs this stadium right now, (outside of the City Council’s chance to appear brimming with solutions for the current economy or because USC football just isn’t enough), one has found equivocation ad nauseam from government officials, private developers, and future skybox ticket holders alike.
There have been a few notable exceptions; glimmers of real analysis available for the anxious-to-tailgate public who may not want the city to acquiesce to every part of the proposal.(7) The LA Weekly’s David Futch, Tibby Rothman, and Jill Stewart have emphasized the number of unanswered traffic and street repair issues with the plan and the discrete negotiating role played by the intended 40+ new electronic billboards for AEG on the South Hall of the city-owned Convention Center.
Nevertheless, for the excited football fans of the six counties nearest L.A. proper, the area construction industry, and SoCal trade and labor unions, the LA Weekly, with little company, has also not quit the refrain ‘Why is this better than the other stadium proposal competing with Farmers Field just 22 miles east of L.A. in the City of Industry?”(8)
Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne had even expanded the questioning: why do we want a City Hall whose leadership on city planning issues consists of simply reacting to developers who want to “shape downtown one mega-project at a time?”
Rather than being in the strict domain of the local media these questions, and the dozens others generated by Farmers Field, can do better than to only be debated and answered by their authors.
The stadium proposal needs more questioning in more forums (not just in the comments section), by those both for and against the idea.
The existing biases, the assumptions in play, the prized status of CEQA exemption, the traffic, the legitimate fiscal drawbacks weighed against any foreseeable benefits (to the non-AEG public), and greater questions of diversity of primary uses in downtown’s future buildings all beg for further dialogue.
How else will those that aren’t directly involved with the approval process establish and defend a position beyond uninformed cheerleading or reflexive rejection, and remind the city that they have a say?
To catalyze such optimistic cross-examination, this author imagines that a first step would be to try to disseminate the news of what’s happened so far in an alternative, more hands-on, way.
In the interest of doing just that, I produced an artwork this past November for (323) Projects in L.A. that involved one exploratory way of sprawling the conversation further around this city.
(323) Projects is a curatorial initiative launched by artist and writer Tucker Neel in 2010. It presents a series of artworks and exhibitions that are all accessed via a single phone number, +1.323.843.4652. There is no physical gallery space or repurposed commercial storefront associated with (323) Projects, and the art presented has taken myriad forms thus far: worldwide songs of protest, daily advice for “enlightened living,” critical reflections on the Christmas season in the U.S., the reading of novel-length love story envisioned through the actions of the Baltimore Snipers of 2002, and more.
Most of the fifteen exhibitions so far have either asked callers to contribute to the construction and form of the art, with the phone number’s voicemail being a space for collaboration; or, have involved a form of sub-curating, with the artists selected by Neel organizing a group of others in a cooperative effort; or, both. The majority of works have run for around four weeks time.
One has generally found out about the latest happening by being on the (323) Projects email list, or through Facebook.
After Neel asked me to produce something for the phone number, he and I began an exchange around two particulars of (323) Projects, the “non-place”(9) of the gallery (and the site of the phone number) and why or how one would be moved to call. We’d talked of a project that could both tie the phone number to a physical location and invite phone calls in a way that didn’t involve a direct solicitation from Neel.
I had been fascinated with the Convention Center and L.A. Live, since having an apartment nearby. Reading the location within its immediately surrounding blocks, in context of downtown’s history and recent development, as well as in comparison to its cousin commercial enclaves (The Grove, Universal City Walk, The Americana, the Third Street Promenade), I’d found that this microcosm quickly became a case study in how things get built and how things evolve in Los Angeles.
While first keeping up with the stadium proposal, I visited FarmersField.com, and was told: “Farmers Field is coming to L.A. Support the stadium and sign up for updates on progress of the project.” After adding my email to the claimed 60,000+ others, there was the opportunity to enter a postal address and receive a free bumper sticker, reading “Bring Football Back. FarmersField.com.”(10)
After receiving my bumper sticker in the mail, I produced hundreds of near replica bumper stickers reading “Bring Football Back. Farmers Field (323) 843-4652.”
Concurrently, I worked with an actor to record verbatim readings of twenty-two selected writings about the stadium proposal from multiple news and media sources covering all the occurrences related to Farmers Field between the unveiling of the potential designs in December 2010 to the revived efforts of the competing stadium proposal in the City of Industry in October 2011. The actor read each with no inflection and no side commentary or opinion.
From November 5-26, 2011, anyone who called the (323) Projects phone number would have heard the actor reading one of the previously published articles or commentaries. Each item played for a whole day, with the next chronological writing playing the day after, so that over the twenty-two day run of the project listeners could re-experience different parts of the development’s progress.
Meanwhile, everyday within that time span, my version of the “Bring Football Back” bumper stickers were distributed for free on location at the Convention Center (during the Comikaze Expo and L.A. Auto Show), the Staples Center, the Nokia Theater, L.A. Live, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriot, and all over Figueroa Street between Pico Boulevard and 7th Street, particularly inside of copies of the Los Angeles Downtown News and outside of the Original Pantry Cafe.
People took the stickers. People called the phone number, indeed more than once. Not by the thousands, but some. The (323) Projects phone number is run via a website, which does keep a call log. In the first week, the project was mentioned by the real estate blog Curbed LA, and, hours later, a representative from AEG called me at my job to tell me to stop distributing the bumper stickers as they had a trademark on their version of the sticker design. I’d asked her to send a cease and desist letter that never came.
Later that same week, I handed out stickers to people drinking at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live, to a group picketing against AEG outside the Staple Center representing the Young Black Contractors of South Central, to concertgoers, to hockey fans leaving a Kings game, to new acquaintances made after joining a small march through the complex by Occupy L.A., to people at Starbucks, to skateboarders, and then some. Those that wanted to talk beyond the sticker exchange wanted to do so about a wide range of football stadium-related topics; from “Do you think the Raiders will come back?” to “I think it’s ugly” to “Where the fuck are they going to put that thing?” to “Who’s paying for it?” to “I thought they were building that in the desert.” Many times, I ended up calling the (323) Projects number with my phone and handing it over for people to listen to that day’s piece, which was particularly serendipitous when the news item playing paralleled our conversation.
Several told me of their experience calling, and the sentiments couldn’t have run further apart. After three weeks, all the stickers were given out, all the readings of the stadium news and communiqués had played, and the (323) Projects phone number switched to another artist’s use.
Thousands may enjoy watching the Los Angeles To-Be-Determineds play on Sundays, but that doesn’t mean that the unresolved issues with the stadium are simply conjecture. I live in a city where there is a binary approach of being solely for or against a building, and the notion of questioning is politically suspect. Asking only a few questions of a new commercial or infrastructural development represents an ulterior motive or perceived allegiance to the greater good – asking too many opens one to charges of NIMBYism.
Another discourse is possible. Circulating this existing news about Farmers Field, in this different way, was my small attempt to stimulate any more interrogation of AEG’s proposal that I could.
Below is a selection that provides one of many approximate representations of how the story has played out in front of Angelenos. Nearly all of these items were read by the actor and played through the (323) Projects phone number as part of my work.
Please take a look and join the conversation.
December 15, 2010 BlogDowntown.com “The three were among nine architecture firms that AEG sent a Request for Proposals to in early November. That document called for the design of a stadium that would have 72,000 seats and 218 suites. The retractable roof is intended to allow the complex to compete for indoor events such as the Final Four.”
January 19, 2011 Los Angeles Times “Leiweke came promising a solution to the dire economic times, touting, ‘We are beginning a process officially today to bring forth a vision that will bring the NFL back to Los Angeles … a catalyst to the largest downtown development in Los Angeles, with 20,000 to 30,000 jobs created.’"
February 1, 2011 89.3 KPCC ”Leiweke proposes that the city issue a $350 million bond to pay for a new West Hall, parking lot and debt. He said if new tax revenues failed to repay the bond, Anschutz would cover the shortfall.”
February 1, 2011 PR Newswire "’La dedicación y participación de Farmers nos permitirá también privatizar completamente el desarrollo del estadio, el cual se convertirá en el verdadero catalizador necesario para, de una vez por todas, modernizar el Los Angeles Convention Center y convertirlo en una de las cinco más importantes instalaciones de su clase en el país.’”
February 1, 2011 The Hollywood Reporter ”The deal would be the most valuable naming rights agreement ever and a huge step toward bringing a pro football team to Los Angeles.”
June 9, 2011 The Orange County Register "’St. Louis, Jacksonville, not extensively, certainly Oakland, San Diego, Minnesota are still in the mix,’ Leiweke said listing the teams AEG has met with before adding: ‘We're not packing any (moving) vans right now.’"
June 19, 2011 Los Angeles Times “While safeguarding the city's interests, the council should, over the next few weeks, do what it often finds difficult: act decisively, in this case to approve a memorandum of understanding with AEG, the Denver-based sports and entertainment group, and allow the stadium to move forward.”
July 25, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”[Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry] Miller said 27% of the Convention Center project would be paid for from new tax revenue generated by the projects, while 73% would come from various payments made by AEG.”
August 3, 2011 Daily News ”The Ad Hoc Committee on the Downtown Stadium and Event Center voted 4-0 for the memorandum of understanding, including Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who had earlier presented the most concerns about it.”
August 26, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”The developers are afraid that without protections, competitors for building a stadium in Southern California could file a frivolous lawsuit to delay the project by years, and the NFL might balk at approving a team for the stadium.”
August 29, 2011 BlogDowntown.com ”AEG's Global Sustainability Manager, Jennifer Regan, told the senators that AEG intends to make Farmers Field the country's most transit-attended stadium, surpassing Seattle's CenturyLink Field.”
August 30, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich had planned for the county board to take a position Tuesday opposing AEG's bid for special state protection against environmental lawsuits.”
September 3, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats from Los Angeles, said their bill would balance the need to uphold environmental laws with the imperative to help the project by Anschutz Entertainment Group, which could create more than 10,000 jobs.”
September 6, 2011 Daily News ”AEG argues its project will be carbon-neutral because it will encourage public transit options that will help reduce overall greenhouse emissions caused by private vehicles headed to the game.”
September 8, 2011 LA Weekly "In working for public agencies," [traffic engineer Robert] Shanteau says, "I have found it impossible to provide unbiased professional input on a project when the City Council members have already made up their minds they want it."
September 20, 2011 FarmersField.com ”’I commend AEG as a model socially responsible company that is the hallmark of CGI [Clinton Global Initiative],’ said former President Clinton, ‘Farmers Field will be another true example of their mission to marry design, innovation, social responsibility and community engagement.’”
September 23, 2011 Impre.com/LaOpinion ”El gigante de deportes y entretenimiento AEG, quién está detrás del proyecto de campo, también busca obtener neutralidad de carbono para todas las emisiones relacionadas con el consumo de energía y el funcionamiento mecánico del estadio.”
September 28, 2011 The Architect’s Newspaper ”This new bill, contingent on the passage of SB292 by the Governor, would be a godsend for architecture.”
September 27, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”They described a parking strategy that would direct game-day drivers to parking zones based on the direction they're traveling from and explained plans for an AEG-funded expansion of a light rail station on Pico Boulevard.”
September 28, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”Speaking at a news conference with Leiweke, labor leaders, a gaggle of lawmakers and two high school football teams, [Governor Jerry] Brown said California's high unemployment demands ‘big ideas and big projects.’"
September 30, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents Pico-Union and backed the stadium deal, says AEG hasn't adequately taken the area's concerns into consideration.”
October 7, 2011 ESPN.com ”’We expect that meeting to be the first of many meetings with the [National Football] league. There are a lot parts to this and it won’t be done overnight. It might take 10, 15 or 20 meetings.’”
October 11, 2011 Los Angeles Times ”Real estate magnate Ed Roski, whose bid for a stadium in City of Industry has for months been lost in the shadows of a rival proposal next to Staples Center, has changed his offer to teams eyeing a relocation.”
November 15, 2011 Daily Breeze "This will become one of the most photographed and recognized buildings in Los Angeles," said Romani, who predicted Farmers Field would do for Los Angeles what architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron's Bejing National Stadium did for that city.”
December 8, 2011 Los Angeles Times “AEG’s executive vice president for real estate Ted Tanner said his company is on track to have the document [EIR], which is expected to be 10,000 pages and cost up to $10 million to prepare, available to the public in late January or February.”
Says Lieweke, "We've built more arenas and stadiums than anyone in the world, ever — including the Romans!" Connie Bruck, “The Man Who Owns L.A.” The New Yorker, January 16, 2012, pp. 46-57.
“Our Plan,” FarmersField.com
Versus a scant number of public city council meetings stacked with speakers standing to benefit from the construction. See Adrian Glick Cudler, “What Happened at the City Council's 3 Hour Stadium Meeting?” la.curbed.com, August 1, 2011.
Bruck’s New Yorker article is one of the only detailed summaries thus far in the national media of the major events to date surrounding the stadium proposal.
Alice M. Walton, “L.A. City Council Considers Farmers Field,” thecitymaven.com, July 29, 2011.
“Don’t Forget About the Convention Center,” FarmersField.com
David Futch, “Farmers Field or Blade Runner Stadium? The downtown NFL arena deal allows a sea of billboards, congestion and millions in public costs,” LA Weekly, September 8, 2011.
Tibby Rothman and Jill Stewart, “A Field of Billboards for Farmers Field,” LA Weekly, September 8, 2011.
Christopher Hawthorne, “Critic’s Notebook: Los Angeles needs a game plan,” Los Angeles Times, December 30, 2010.
Majestic Realty Co., led by Ed Roski, has proposed the Los Angeles Football Stadium.
Referring to the term coined by Marc Augé in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London: Verso), 1995.
As of January 20, 2012, a new visitor to FarmersField.com will see the same prompt.