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Friday, Jul 12, 2024

Was That an Error at the Stadium?

The long-awaited Westfield Promenade 2035 plan got final approval from the Los Angeles Planning Commission on May 28. The big redevelopment project promises to create a centerpiece for what some consider the downtown of the west San Fernando Valley. However, after listening to the procedures, I can’t help but wonder if we missed an opportunity. That’s because developers got approval to build only a smallish stadium. It can be a 10,000-seat enclosed arena or a 7,500-seat partly roofed one. That’s down from the 15,000-seat stadium originally proposed. For comparison’s sake, the Forum in Inglewood has 18,000 seats and Staples Center has 20,000. One of the commissioners, Vahid Khorsand, who grew up in the area and still lives and works there, did some last-minute lobbying for a larger stadium, one that would put the West Valley “on the map,” as he put it several times. He explained that when he commits to a trip to, say, downtown Los Angeles for a sports event or the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for a show, he makes a half-day excursion of it. He might have lunch or dinner there and pop into some of the shops. A larger stadium in Woodland Hills, he said, likewise would draw more people and perhaps from greater distances. If they came from Westlake Village or Malibu or even the L.A. basin, they may want to poke around, shop and eat. A larger stadium opens up the promise of more activity, perhaps help with an economic revival, Khorsand said. Indeed, one representative from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce pointed out that after Staples Center opened in late 1999, it helped spark the rejuvenation of Downtown Los Angeles. By contrast, said Khorsand, the smaller stadium plans, “do not put the West Valley on the map.” He proposed that the developer, Unibail- Rodamco-Westfield, be given authority to build up to 15,000 seats. However, some opined that such a change might trigger the need for the developer to go through a new approval process. That was chilling enough, but the whole notion of the larger stadium pretty much seized up when Larry Green, the top local executive of Westfield, said he was “comfortable” with the two options for the smaller stadium. The stadium got the greatest pushback from the community – some neighbors at the public hearing again complained about the possibility of noise and late-night traffic generated by the stadium – and Green may not want to reopen that can of controversy after finally getting approval for the scaled-down versions. After the meeting, Khorsand said he feels very good about the Westfield Promenade project generally. “I just wish it would have a 15,000-seat stadium,” he said. He may be right. You know that feeling you often get when you buy something that comes in different sizes – anything from a television set all the way up to a swimming pool? Almost immediately you regret not getting a bigger one. We may have the same feeling a few years from now with the stadium. We may look back on this moment as an opportunity that was lost. By the way, the stadium may be the most controversial aspect of the development, but it is only one portion of it. The project, at the 34-acre site of the almost dead Westfield Promenade shopping mall at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street, calls for two hotels with 572 rooms total, 1,400 living units, some office towers and gobs of retail. It is to cost $1.5 billion and employ more than 10,000 during construction and a little less than 10,000 after completion. A couple of other points: The stadium does not yet have a sports team as tenant. Green said it’s difficult to get a tenant to sign on when the size of the stadium, until now, had not been set. But a women’s professional soccer team or a pro hockey team presumably could work there. A minor league baseball team is still a possibility, even though the original plans for one didn’t pan out. The stadium, of course, can always host concerts, graduation ceremonies and the like. Interestingly, the Westfield Promenade project may have gotten a boost because of the coronavirus pandemic. A number of people spoke in favor of the project because it will help pull the area out of the economic retraction caused by the lockdown orders. “It’s a godsend during a period of economic uncertainty like this,” said one. “COVID-19 has really hurt, and this project will help,” said Sonya Kay Blake, the new president and chief executive of the Valley Economic Alliance. Commission members voted unanimously for the project.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.

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