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L.A. City Council hears fallback plans for aging Convention Center


LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Los Angeles City Council members heard some loose plans today for upgrading the Convention Center — such as building more exhibition space and meeting rooms at the aging venue — that could form a back-up plan in the event a deal struck with developer AEG last year falls through.

A development agreement with Anschutz Entertainment Group to bring an NFL team to play at the Convention Center site buoyed hopes that the venue, which officials say is under-utilized and has in recent years lost out on lucrative conference and convention bookings, would be upgraded along with the
construction of a football stadium.

However, delays in attracting an NFL team have made those plans more uncertain, prompting Councilwoman Jan Perry to request a report on how the city could renovate the convention site without the benefit of a football stadium as a draw for additional funding.

AEG still has about another 17 months in its contract to come through with a team, but in the meantime, Perry and other council members are looking for other possible ways of funding the hoped-for renovation project.

The requested report, by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit consultant on land use and development, was presented to council members today during a Ad Hoc Committee on Downtown Stadium and Convention Center Renovation meeting.

Their report laid out a lengthy list of problems with the existing convention site, such as a shortage of meeting spaces and hotel rooms in the area, inflexibly laid out rooms, a dated appearance and minimal connections between the Convention Center and other parts of downtown Los Angeles.

The center also lacks a large-enough ballroom, and meeting rooms are not outfitted with the latest meeting technology, according to the institute’s experts.

The venue also does lacks an inviting outdoor space for socializing, according to the panel, which suggested that the Convention Center might consider hosting food trucks.

“There are a number of crying needs” that require solving at the Convention Center, said Alex Rose, President of Continental Development Corporation and chair of the Urban Land Institute advisory panel.

Rose added the governing structure of the Convention Center needs to become more centralized, rather than serving “multiple masters” as it does now.

Larry Kosmont, an economic development consultant who is a member of the Institute’s panel, said the Convention Center should be set up in the same way as the city’s airport authority and utility company, and city leaders may want to consider forming a joint powers authority that can shoulder the debt for renovation projects, independently of the city’s operational coffers.

In order to make some of the improvements possible, Kosmont said, the Convention Center should be headed by a “strong CEO” or a “singular board that operates its own financing and can enter into a long-term lease with the city and make payments, and when it’s profitable, truly be contributing to the general fund, but independent, so it can run its business.”

“There are ways to do this, but one way not to do it is to have two or three boards operating independently and a director operating without central authority over all those boards … a promotion arm separate from the convention center board, having no control over financing because you’re
operating through the general fund and through the city council’s whims and preferences,” Kosmont said.

The city is also in the process of looking for a private operator, and is reviewing bids, including one from AEG, to run the Convention Center.

The City Council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee will also be hearing from Convention Center staff on a tentative “action plan” released this week by Convention Center interim Executive Director Bud Ovrom, newly appointed by outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Ovrom’s plan stated the event venue’s focus is still on providing “needed support to AEG, the City Council and the mayor to achieve the primary goal of bringing a stadium/NFL team to the site of LACC’s current West Hall.”

“Indeed, not only should the city fully honor its contractual obligation to AEG, it is the recommendation of this report that the city should also use its considerable political and economic influence to oppose any other possible NFL location anywhere in L.A. County, other than at the Convention Center site,” according to the plan.

Ovrom’s plan also floated a 250,000 square feet “new hall” to expand space at the venue, and the possibility of having the UCLA football team play at the downtown stadium.