Culver City Observer -

Remarkably, Inglewood Gets The Rams - Part 1

The City Recovers From Financial Doom

 

August 4, 2016

Fred Altieri

City of Inglewood City Hall

The City of Inglewood and the Los Angeles Rams are now partners with a promising future and a commitment to providing first-class entertainment. Five years ago both franchises were a disaster. The Rams were in St. Louis and at the bottom of the NFL with a 2-14 record. Inglewood was on the verge of suffering a financial collapse.

After the dust had settled from the league announcement in January of this year that Inglewood would be home to the Los Angeles Rams and three months later learned that it would host Super Bowl LV in 2021, Mayor James T. Butts, Jr. shared a compelling story. Defying the odds, the city is forging itself into a positive force on multiple levels.

When Butts took office on February 1, 2011 the City of Inglewood was six or seven months away from cash-flow bankruptcy. The city held less than $11 million in its wallet. The biggest liability was its lifetime medical cost: a $330 million unfunded liability over 30 years.

"If we survive that first year that I was in office, by 2017 our medical payments for people who no longer worked here and their dependents would bankrupt us once again. So that had to be dealt with first," began Butts.

"I said in the next contract: "This is going to go away and we will try to negotiate something to replace it that has value." The Global Union picketed my house, passed out flyers with me in a top hat and said I was Scrooge and the only saving grace was a good picture of me. But it had to be done."

That was only the beginning. The city's maintenance services were suffering badly while the public streets and sewage system needed immediate attention. The citizens' basic needs were being neglected.

"The city wasn't working. It was broken and still going bankrupt. We trimmed about 1,200 trees a year. So you wouldn't get your tree trimmed but once in every 20 years. We only paved between one to five miles of roadway a year.

"We had a parking control operation... about 25 checkers and maybe half of them would show up on any given day to work. We had two street sweepers for nine square miles. The street sweeping equipment was 35 years old. Either one of the street sweepers was broken or one of the operators was off on injury.

"So we outsourced street sweeping. Now we have five street sweepers a day. We outsource tree trimming. We now trim 6,000 trees a year. We outsourced our parking control into a public-private partnership where the vendor provides the equipment and the personnel. And they were required to hire our people that were employable. Now we get a return without the employee expenses."

Five years later the city has revitalized itself. The $11 million has turned into $40 million. Moody's increased their bond rating in February 2015. This year's State of the City Address in April promoted: "The only thing that has changed in Inglewood is everything."

"January 21st of this year Moody's gave their annual opinion that said as far as credit-worthiness and finances that the City of Inglewood far surpasses any city in the nation that they rate as far as our unobligated reserves as a percentage of our spending plan.

"Like I said, we trim 6,000 trees a year, parking control has been taken care of, street sweeping, and so doing things like that we stabilized our finances.

"Why is that the precursor? Nobody comes in and invests in a city where you can't pave your streets. We paved 87 miles of linear roadway in the last two years. That's more than the 15 years prior combined.

"And we have to do those things because who is going to come into the city where the infrastructure is not taken care of. The water system: we hadn't raised the water rates since 2003 but water prices had escalated. We were subsidizing water purchases with what supposed to be capital money to improve the water system.

"We had water main breaks in the city and they resulted in sinkholes. We'd have a sinkhole about every month when I took office. Now we do two to three miles of sewer maintenance and pipe replacement a year because we raised water rates, because we had to.

"It isn't so much how much a city has, it's the physical things we do to renew our infrastructure. Cities that are in danger of catastrophic water failure are not places that people invest hundreds of millions of dollars in. So how did the process start between the City of Inglewood and the Rams? It started there."

Inglewood got into negotiations with Madison Square Garden to invest in The Forum and rehabilitate it. They started negotiating with in 2012 and opened in January 2014. In 11 months they were the number one concert venue in the Los Angeles area.

Today, it's the number one concert venue in terms of concerts booked in California and number two in the country behind Madison Square Garden in New York City and number four in the world. "They showed that people would come to Inglewood for entertainment. They were the predicate," said Butts.

Five years of vision, determination, sacrifice and sound practice placed Inglewood in a position to be a serious contender for landing a professional sports franchise.

"Two and a half years ago, Stan Kroenke, out of the blue showed up in Inglewood and we had a discussion about his vision and my vision. And the two of them blended together."

Yet, the NFL owners were still a few years away from approving any franchise movement as well as which cities or venues would be involved.

"Then came an agreement in brokered meetings between them (Kroenke Group) and Stockridge Capital, a public park land company that was in charge of the development. It ended up with something that was grander than either side envisioned."

Stan Kroenke was investing and acquiring more of the land so that in the end he would own the whole project. That meeting 2 1/2 years ago morphed into a joint development and venture agreement between the Kroenke Group, Hollywood Park Land and Cypress Capitol, which was the investment arm for the original project.

"Then we had to go through convincing the NFL owners that this was the best project. That responsibility fell upon Stan Kroenke and Kevin Demoff because the owners meetings are private. But part of this was the media war.

City of Inglewood

Mayor James T. Butts, Jr.

"The Chargers were very aggressive in attempting to create the perception that Carson was a fait accompli although our project was already underway. The land was being graded and sewer connections were being made."

"The other sites in the country, St. Louis included, presented pretty pictures of what they thought their stadiums would look like. HKS Architects had 150 architects working on our project for six months.

"So we actually had completed architectural drawings. We had a site that had been graded, that had sewer connections made.

"In the end, the complexity of this entertainment district that was being designed combined with the financial reality that it was already underway and would be the most lucrative for the NFL as a league won the day."

Next: the stadium, security, jobs and more...

 

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