ST. LOUIS - A company tied to St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a prime piece of land in the Los Angeles area amid speculation the NFL franchise is considering a return to the city it left for the Midwest nearly two decades ago.
Team officials on Friday provided a written statement confirming the recent purchase of a 60-acre site in Inglewood, Calif., adjacent to the shuttered Hollywood Park racetrack. The Los Angeles Times first reported the purchase.
"As real estate developers, the Kroenke Organizations are involved in numerous real estate deals across the country and North America," the statement said. "While we can confirm media reports that we recently purchased land in Inglewood, as a private company we don't typically discuss our plans for commercial or residential investments. We have yet to decide what we are going to do with the property but we will look at all options, as we do with all of our properties."
The property is three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport runways and sprawls between the newly renovated Forum concert venue, former home of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Hollywood Park, which closed Dec. 22 after 75 years of horse racing. The latter 260-acre site is slated for development of 3,000 housing units, commercial space and parks.
The land was previously owned by Wal-Mart, which hoped to build a superstore there but could not win local voter approval for the project. Kroenke is a former Wal-Mart board member who is married to the daughter of company co-founder Bud Walton and continues to build shopping centres for the retailer.
Los Angeles has lacked an NFL team since both the Rams and Raiders left in 1994. The Rams can break their 30-year lease in St. Louis after the 2014 season â€” a decade early â€” but have said little about their plans.
The Rams' lease requires the Edward Jones Dome to remain among the top quarter of the 32 NFL stadiums, based on various criteria. The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, which manages the dome, last year offered a $124 million improvement plan that included a bigger scoreboard and better club seating, with the Rams paying slightly more half those costs.
The team countered with a far more ambitious proposal that called for a new roof with a sliding panel and a bevy of improvements that would keep the city convention centre in the dome closed for three years. City leaders rejected $700 million in publicly funded upgrades sought by the team.
Speaking in New York before Sunday's Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was informed of the Kroenke purchase and noted that any stadium development plan would require approval from two-thirds of the NFL's 32 owners. He later pointed out that a franchise relocation to Los Angeles would require approval of three-fourths of team owners.
"We're aware of it," Goodell said. "There are no plans, to my knowledge, of a stadium development. Anything that would require a stadium development would require multiple votes of the membership."
Goodell cautioned against "overreacting" to the Kroenke land purchase, saying "we should make sure we do what's necessary to continue to support the team locally, which the fans have done in St. Louis. And make sure we can do whatever we can to make sure that team is successful in the St. Louis market."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he thinks "it's unfortunate that a generation of fans have grown up without" a team in Los Angeles.
"We definitely want a team in L.A. ... We need to make sure we have the right owner and the right facility, and until at least 24 owners feel that, we won't have it," Kraft said in New York. "Just personally, I would like to see a team in L.A. as soon as possible."
Yusef Robb, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said the purchase of the Inglewood parking lot was "a commercial property deal that we aren't going to speculate on."
Over the years, proposals â€” some complete with elaborate renderings â€” have been floated for NFL stadiums in the cities of Carson, Irwindale and Industry, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, in a remodeled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and near Dodger Stadium.
Most recently, Los Angeles city leaders supported a plan by the sports and entertainment company AEG to build a $1.5 billion, 72,000-seat stadium called Farmers Field near downtown's Staples Center and the LA Live and convention centre complexes. In an interview earlier this month, Garcetti said he was eager for an NFL team to return to Los Angeles but made clear his priority is improving the city's convention centre.
"A football team, unless we add a whole bunch of Super Bowls, really doesn't add a lot to the local economy," he said. At this point "the work really is between owners and within the NFL to see whether there's somebody who wants to bring a team here."
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has taken over negotiations with the Rams and Kroenke after arbitration between the team, the commission and the stadium authority failed. James Shrewsbury, chairman of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which owns the downtown dome, referred questions about the Los Angeles purchase to the governor.
"It's hard to comment on it since we don't know what his purpose is," Shrewsbury said, referring to Kroenke, who could not be reached for comment. "He hasn't said what he plans to do with it."
The football St. Louis Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1987, and the city went nearly a decade without a franchise until the Los Angeles Rams arrived in 1995.
Associated Press writers Howard Fendrich, Michael R. Blood and John Antczak contributed to this report.
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