In a few days, the eyes of the world will focus on lavish SoFi Stadium in Inglewood as the $5.5 billion complex hosts its biggest pageant yet, Super Bowl XVI.
One upon a time, the city of Carson came “that close” to snagging that prize, the rights to erect an NFL-caliber stadium that likely would have snared such spectacles.
Certainly it was a bummer for city leaders when its efforts to bring an NFL stadium there to house the Chargers and Raiders were foiled when the league in January 2016 shifted gears in the final quarter and chose Stan Kroenke to build his Palace on Prairie Avenue for his Rams and the Chargers.
Though TVs around the planet will be focused 16 miles northwest on Feb. 13, folks in Carson are finally getting some good news about the property — idle for decades — that darned near snagged the NFL.
The 157-acre landfill that would have been used for the stadium now belongs to the city and progress is at last being made to develop all five of its adjacent parcels. One will host some 900 affordable housing units. Other parcels could see an industrial complex, 12 acres of community park as well as restaurants and even am amphitheater.
As per an agreement with the Chargers and Raiders, once the deal fell through, the land would be purchased for $1 in the name of the Carson Reclamation Authority, a joint power public entity that was formed for the proposed deal.
Moreover, the city was paid over $1.5 million to cover negotiation costs, so it did not spend one cent on the process, city attorney Sunny Soltani said.
That doesn’t mean that those involved were not disheartened when the deal did not materialize. Former mayor Al Robles and Soltani admitted they are still sad that it did not happen. They also believe that when all was said and done, the city won.
“While I was disappointed that the stadium did not come to Carson, which I considered to be the best location for the project, at the end of the day I am pleased at the fact that it did help bring positive attention to Carson,” Robles said this past week.
“And, more importantly, the 157 acres that up until that time had been privately held, was now controlled by the residents of Carson for the first time.”
City officials consider this their happy ending. The Chargers, meanwhile, are now based in L.A. after all and tenants at SoFi. The Raiders snared their own gold ring, moving to Las Vegas to play in the $1.8 billion Allegiant Stadium, which will host Super Bowl LVIII in 2024.
But for a few months, all those players had a different conclusion in mind. Here’s the tale of Carson’s almost arena.
Robles recalled an incident that took place not long before the NFL made its decision. He was asked by NBC sportscaster Fred Roggin to join him for an interview on his show.
Robles said Roggin wanted to speak to him before it began.
“He goes, ‘You know Carson’s not going to get the stadium, right?’” Robles said. “I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ “
Robles said Roggin told him that Kroenke is a very rich man and that rich people get their way, and so on.
“And I said, ‘You know what? It may go to Inglewood, but tell you one thing that’s going to happen in the meantime. Carson will get a lot of positive publicity from this process. So whether it comes to Carson or not, it’s going to put Carson on the map.’ “
Robles said Roggin responded.
“He says, ‘You have the right attitude. So no matter what happens, Carson’s going to win?’ ” Robles said. “And I said, ‘Yup, that’s it, Carson’s going to win.’ “
Roggin via email confirmed that a conversation like that took place.
Soltani, who was the lead negotiator, echoed Robles’ sentiment.
“The prospects of having one of the nicest, the most exciting developments in your community, obviously, once you don’t get it, there’s a little bit of letdown,” she said Monday via telephone. “So, yes, I think the mayor and the city council at the time — even the mayor and the city council now — are disappointed that it didn’t happen.”
True. But again, there was a positive after effect.
“Ever since the NFL left the L.A. area, Carson was talked about as a potential site for a new stadium no less than three times,” said Lula Davis-Holmes, Carson’s current mayor. “While each time it didn’t happen and we were disappointed, nevertheless each time we moved closer to the return of the NFL, especially with our last effort, so there is no denying our key role in the return of the NFL to Southern California.”
Soltani also noted that Carson still got to experience an NFL team in its city when the Chargers played at what was formerly known as StubHub Center and is now called Dignity Health Sports Park from 2017-19 while awaiting the completion of SoFi. The park, smallish by NFL standards, gave Chargers fans a brief chance to see pro football in a more intimate setting — and the pre-game tailgating experience won rave reviews.
“We got the benefit of having the Chargers play at StubHub for, I think it was four years — three or four years, so that was exciting” Soltani said.
“But for the Chargers negotiating with the city to build a stadium there, maybe that would have never happened.”
The city was also considered for an NFL stadium in the late ’90s and 2005, with neither possibility bearing fruit.
How it went down
Robles said officials from the Chargers and Raiders convinced him that the deal to build a $1.7 billion stadium on the site in Carson near the 405 Freeway financed by the teams would come to fruition.
First, issues with the land had to be settled. It was owned by Carson Marketplace, which was going to develop a mix-use complex that included residential, hotels and commercial buildings.
Soltani said before that could happen, Carson Marketplace was bought out by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc.
“So when the Chargers and the Raiders approached the city about doing the NFL stadium here, it had to be a three-way transaction,” Soltani said. “Starwood had to sell the property to either the city or the Chargers and the Raiders, so they would be out of the way.
“And then the city and the Chargers and the Raiders would have to negotiate the deal and pull together what the terms of our deal would apply.”
Enter the Carson Reclamation Authority.
“Nobody wanted to own a landfill,” Soltani said. “The city didn’t want want to own a landfill, Chargers and Raiders didn’t want to own a landfill. So we formed something called the Carson Reclamation Authority, which is a joint power public entity that’s comprised of the housing authority, and there were two community facilities districts that were formed to raise money for the maintenance of the infrastructure like roads, utilities and the environmental systems.”
The deal then was that the Chargers and Raiders would pay Starwood for the land, Soltani said.
“However, if the NFL did not approve the deal, the CRA would get the property for one dollar,” Soltani said. “And this was an incredible deal for us and we were excited because for the first time, a public entity was going to control the destiny of this site.”
That’s not all.
“The state issued $50 million in bonds that could be used toward finishing these remedial systems,” Soltani said. “So that’s why, when you say, did the city benefit? I think the entire region benefited from this deal because at the end of the day, we’re on the cusp of developing this property that had been sitting there unremediated, undeveloped for five decades.”
Interestingly, a committee of six NFL owners charged with finding the best site for the new stadium in L.A. recommended Carson by a 5-1 vote. But during a secret ballot only hours later, that was overturned by first by a 20-12 vote by all owners for SoFi and then 21-11, according to Sports Illustrated.
Eventually, owners voted 30-2 to give final approval to SoFi. A year later, the Chargers agreed to join the Rams at SoFi as tenants.
Six years later, neither Robles nor Soltani bear any ill will toward the NFL and its decision to go with Kroenke. If anything, both have celebrated the return of the NFL to the greater L.A. area, even if in somewhat bittersweet fashion.
Soltani said she was cheering on the Rams in their 20-17 victory over the 49ers on Sunday night in the NFC Championship game at SoFi, yet wishing such a big game could have been played at the Carson stadium that never materialized.
As for Robles, he is embracing the moment.
“Well, I’m ecstatic that football came back to Los Angeles after this drought of football that we went through,” he said; the Rams left in 1995 to St. Louis and returned to L.A. in 2016. “I’m ecstatic that we got two teams, I’m disappointed that one of the teams is not the Raiders and I’m thrilled at the prospects of there being a Super Bowl here in Los Angeles again.”
The Coliseum hosted the Super Bowl in 1967 and 1973 and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena hosted it in 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1993.
As a parting thought, Robles said he still has the half-Chargers, half-Raiders jersey he had sewn together during the time Carson was in the mix for a stadium.
“That went viral and I still have it,” Robles said. “It (ticked) off a lot of Raiders fans and it (ticked) off a lot of Chargers fans. Like, ‘Who’s this guy, he obviously doesn’t know anything about football.’ But, hey, I was trying to promote my city.”
Source: Orange County Register