Who knew, or could even guess, just what the impact could be when Phil Anschutz and Ed Roski first talked about building a new arena in downtown L.A.
The negotiating, between the owners of the Kings and the Los Angeles City Council over what was planned, who was paying for it and what the city’s liability would be, began in earnest early in 1997. There were naysayers. Some wondered if losing the North Hall of the Convention Center, where the arena would be built, was a deal-breaker. Others worried about the city being on the hook for the bonds to begin development of the adjacent property.
During one of those city council meetings, according to a Daily News story from May of 1997, one council member voiced this concern: “What happens if this is a bust? We’ll end up with a vacant building.”
We will not name that council member. No sense dunking on ’em more than two decades later.
Staples Center, primarily privately financed and the first major project of what would become the Anschutz Entertainment Group, has not been a bust by any stretch of the imagination.
Since it opened on Oct. 17, 1999, with the first of four Bruce Springsteen concerts, it has become the sports and entertainment heartbeat of the nation’s second-largest city. And it’s fair to say that the development it spawned – the L.A. Live complex across the street, which includes the Microsoft Theater, the Grammy Museum, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, a bowling alley, a multiplex, ESPN studios, etc. – has done its part in transforming the neighborhood from a ghost town of blighted buildings, parking lots and undeveloped land into a true destination.
It might not quite be the L.A. equivalent of Times Square, as some of the early hyperbole suggested. But it has become the sort of civic gathering place that didn’t previously exist downtown, which is where a great city should have its communal space.
Staples Center’s impact on sports and entertainment in this community is obvious, as the home of the Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Sparks, Grammy Awards and plenty of other attractions. There are 207 events this calendar year alone, including concerts by Elton John, Pink, Carrie Underwood, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Michael Bublé, the Backstreet Boys, etc.
It would be quite appropriate – call it a 20th anniversary gift – if the building became the first in modern NBA history to host all seven games of a playoff series. It would be even more appropriate if it were a Lakers-Clippers Western Conference finals; that would assure the building of its eighth NBA Finals, to go with three NBA All-Star Games, two NHL All-Star Games, two Kings Stanley Cup celebrations and three WNBA Finals with the Sparks.
But Staples Center and L.A. Live didn’t just transform a few blocks of that South Park neighborhood. Its effect was wider.