Friday, February 27, 2015

AEG report warns rival Inglewood NFL stadium presents terrorist threat

In a bold move to undercut an NFL stadium at Hollywood Park, the sports and entertainment firm AEG commissioned a study by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge that found the Inglewood project would be a tempting target for terrorists and should not be built.

AEG has been pursuing its own NFL stadium next to Staples Center for several years and is in direct competition with Inglewood, whose plan was approved Tuesday by that city's government.

In a 14-page report, Ridge suggests that because the Inglewood stadium proposed by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke would lie within three to four miles of Los Angeles International Airport and beneath the flight path of airliners, terrorists might try to shoot down a plane or crash one into the stadium, scenarios Ridge described as "a terrorist event 'twofer.' "

Ridge said the Inglewood stadium, part of a planned retail, office and residential development at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, would have "a significant risk profile with the potential to produce consequences that will not only the impact the airport and region, but global interests."

In contrast to Ridge's warnings, city officials as well as aviation experts have said a stadium at the Hollywood Park site is not a safety concern. The Federal Aviation Administration, in environmental impact reports, has twice given its blessing to proposed stadiums in Inglewood.

The NFL has several stadiums — including Santa Clara and East Rutherford, N.J. — in close proximity to major airports. No stadium in the U.S. has been the subject of a terrorist attack.

The league, which is aware of the report, did not offer an opinion on the Inglewood site.

"We feel that the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye," said Eric Grubman, NFL senior vice president and the league's point man on the L.A. market. "You should assume the NFL has its own experts hired and at work to assess any potential NFL site, in any city, regarding these matters. And it is that advice that we will rely on."

Marc Ganis, a consultant who has worked on projects involving more than two-thirds of NFL teams, reviewed the document and said it "does not have any definitive data that would argue against going forward."

It is not known how widely AEG distributed the report. The Times obtained it from a public relations firm representing Ridge, who was not made available for comment Friday.

In the December document, Ridge invoked al-Qaeda, included pictures of two terrorist bomb-makers and mentioned the 2013 shooting of a Transportation Security Administration officer at LAX.

The former Pennsylvania governor, now a security consultant, said in the report that if NFL, state and local leaders proceed with the Inglewood plan, they "must be willing to accept the significant risk and the possible consequences …. This should give both public and private leaders in the area some pause."

This week, the Inglewood City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the stadium project that is part of a 298-acre mixed-used development. While developers, which include Kroenke, pledge to start construction by December on a stadium that could cost a record $1.86 billion, no NFL team has yet filed for relocation.

In addition to the stadium, the proposed sports and entertainment district on the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood would compete with restaurants and hotels at AEG's LA Live.

Asked about the report, AEG said "we have been working diligently and in good faith … to advance NFL discussions while also exploring plans for other development alternatives around the LA Live campus." AEG's deal with L.A. for the downtown stadium dubbed Farmers Field, already extended once, expires April 17.

A spokesman for the Hollywood Park project declined to comment Friday.

The Inglewood stadium's developers have retained a consultant to advise them on complying with FAA regulations. The playing field will sit 100 feet below ground level to meet FAA rules. At its highest point, the covered stadium will be about 175 feet above ground, or 290 feet above sea level.

"It was concluded that no FAA standards would be exceeded so long as no portion of any structure in the designated location exceeds an elevation of 290 feet above … sea level," the Inglewood report said.

That's eight feet shorter than a stadium plan that received a "no hazard" determination from the FAA in 1995, according to Inglewood's environmental review, and within guidelines Los Angeles County's Airport Land Use Commission approved for the Hollywood Park plan in 2009.

That report noted Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, sits less than three miles from San Jose International Airport. Unlike the proposed Inglewood site, that stadium is not on the main approach route.

"The FAA conducts thorough technical reviews of all construction near airports to determine if they pose a hazard to aircraft or navigation aides," said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman based in Los Angeles. "In this case, there is nothing for us to comment on because no one has presented us with a formal plan."

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