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Can There Be an Urban NFL Culture? L.A. Stadium Proposals Built on Different Answers

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, April 01, 2011, at 12:24PM
Farmers Field Gensler / AEG

Street-level rendering of AEG's proposed Farmers Field project shows pedestrians taking over Chick Hearn Court.

Is the NFL's culture of cars and tailgating permanent and immutable, or could an urban stadium change the way fans arrive at and interact with a football game?

Perhaps surprisingly, tailgating continues to be one of the major points of contention in the debate over where a new NFL stadium should be built in the greater Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Stadium plan proposed by Majestic for the City of Industry offers 600 acres of parking lots and fan experience, while AEG's Farmers Field in Downtown L.A. relies on the belief that fans will adjust their habits for an urban stadium.

At a Thursday panel organized by the Pat Brown Institute, Majestic's John Semcken talked about growing up in New York and taking the train to Yankees games. He doesn't see the same happening for football.

"I think a football stadium is a different animal," he said. "People don't take mass transit to football games."

The location of Majestic's proposed stadium in the City of Industry is "the single biggest asset in our project," Semcken said. The site is within a one-hour drive of 15.5 million people in a four-county region.

The location bears a resemblance to the siting of the NFL's two newest high-profile stadiums, New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ and the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Majestic believes that's what NFL fans want. When the project polled potential attendees about the items they would value in a stadium, parking topped the list. "The public listed public transportation as last in terms of importance," Semcken said.

While it does have connection to a Metrolink station and will include space for charter buses, Majestic's stadium will include 25,000 parking spaces. The farthest of them will be more than 5900 feet—1.13 miles—from the field of play. Laid over Downtown Los Angeles, that would give a sea of parking that stretches from AEG's proposed stadium site next to Staples Center to 7th and Spring in the Historic Core.

By contrast, AEG is banking on being able to change football fans' status quo.

"We will design [the stadium] in a way where it will be driven by keeping people out of their cars," CEO Tim Leiweke told those at a Central City Association luncheon in December.

AEG lobbied the state several years back for $30 million that is now being spent on upgrading the streetscape along Figueroa to improve walkability and bike facilities. It has expressed a willingness to upgrade the Pico / Chick Hearn light rail station, which sits two blocks from the stadium site and serves the Blue Line and the soon-to-open Expo Line.

The company has also touted its successful efforts to diffuse traffic and parking issues around Staples Center. Stadium plans would add just 1,500 new parking spaces. AEG has repeatedly pointed to the 30,000 parking spaces that it says can be found within a 15-minute walk of the stadium site and said that it hopes traditional tailgating will be at least partially replaced by visits to restaurants in the area, including those at L.A. Live.

Both proposals must wait for the NFL's labor strife to be resolved before securing a team, a milestone that will almost certainly determine a winner. Only then will it be seen which philosophy will win out.

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