LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles City Council on Friday approved a $1.2 billion plan to build a downtown football stadium, moving America's second most populous city closer than it's been in nearly two decades to having a professional football team.
Council members voted unanimously in favor of the Anschutz Entertainment Group's proposal to erect the 72,000-seat stadium in the city's downtown core. It will be named "Farmer's Field." AEG, controlled by billionaire Phil Anschutz, is up for sale but an agreement with the city will require its new owners to take up the stadium project.
Hundreds of football fans in the yellow-and-blue jerseys of the departed Los Angeles Rams football team, ushers from sports arena Staples Center sporting "Farmers Field" T-shirts, and even carpenters' union members turned up at Friday's vote, jamming the meeting room and spilling into the hallways outside. NBA Hall of Fame basketball player and local celebrity Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived to raucous applause.
AEG executives say they plan to lure a National Football League team to anchor the new stadium. The St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders are among teams expected to be contacted.
"As we proved to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Kings, if you build a great home they will come, and they will build championships," said AEG president Tim Leiweke. "We're making a statement to the NFL: L.A. is now open for business."
The city has been without professional football since 1994, when the Rams, then playing in nearby Anaheim, as well as the Raiders, both left. Business and labor groups testified in favor of a plan that could create from 20,000 to 30,000 jobs and generate business downtown. Critics protested about traffic congestion and costs to the city.
Biotech entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong - who sat in the front row of the meeting room on Friday with Leiweke - said he was interested in buying AEG and owning an NFL team. L.A.'s richest man, whose wealth is estimated at more than $7 billion, said he will use AEG's sports teams and its concert touring business to help promote healthy lifestyles to youth.
AEG's construction proposal involves the issuance of $314.6 million in bonds, backed by taxes, lease agreements and other revenue sources. No direct public funding will be involved, council members said in approving the plan.
"This is about bringing jobs back to L.A., make no mistake," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, in whose district the stadium would be located.
The council's approval is expected to create fierce competition between AEG and Majestic Realty, which has won approval to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, miles from the downtown district.
NFL owners are expected to meet in March, when they could approve the transfer of a football franchise, if an agreement is reached to relocate a club to Los Angeles.
Editing by Eric Walsh and Claudia Parsons