Inglewood pins hopes for commercial revival on Rams

At Posh Klipz, the barber and owner Sonny Wells points to a framed photograph of Magic Johnson, sitting for a haircut in his shop two decades ago. “That was my best client,” Wells says.

Eventually, Johnson, a longtime Los Angeles Laker, stopped frequenting Posh Klipz, going for the shaved look instead. Chairs really emptied at the barbershop, though, in 1999 after the Lakers and the National Hockey League team the Kings left this city, Wells said. Much of the business in Inglewood slowed after the teams vacated the Forum here, moving to the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, about a half-hour’s drive northeast.

This year, there is fresh hope to revive Inglewood, which is planning to welcome the Rams football team back to the Los Angeles area after 20 years in St. Louis. The Rams’ owner, E. Stanley Kroenke, is building a 80,000-seat stadium, at a cost likely to exceed $2 billion, to accommodate the team, and an entertainment complex is being built nearby as part of a continuing project called Hollywood Park.

The development will include about 900,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel, 2,500 residential units and 25 acres of public parks, all on the site of the former Hollywood Park Racetrack. Plans include almost 800,000 square feet of office space.

“This development adds a dimension to the city that it has never had before,” said Inglewood’s mayor, James T. Butts Jr.

Inglewood, a city of 110,000, is just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles and a short drive from its upscale western environs like Beverly Hills. “Inglewood is strategically located in the LA basin,” said Bob Healey, a senior vice president at the commercial real estate firm CBRE who specializes in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Healey added that commercial values in the areas surrounding the stadium site had already risen.

The city has a predominantly black, lower-income community with pockets of middle-class residents and a growing Hispanic population, said Jamie Brooks, a CBRE executive.

“The stadium reinforces the idea that this is going to be a destination,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t take a master developer to figure it out: This place has a lot of potential.”

In 2005, Stockbridge Capital Group, a real estate investment management firm, acquired the 238-acre Hollywood Park site, across the street from the Forum and a premier place for horse racing in its day. The firm aimed to build the entertainment complex, which will include a 6,000-seat performing arts theater.

The Kroenke Group, a development firm founded by Kroenke in 2013, bought a 60-acre parcel adjacent to Hollywood Park and the Forum, which reopened in 2014 and hosts many concerts. The groups formed a joint venture the next year, the Hollywood Park Land Company, to develop Hollywood Park and the newly acquired site.

In January 2015, Kroenke announced plans to build the stadium without any public money, and the joint venture embarked on an effort to gather signatures for a voter initiative. Within weeks, about 22,000 signatures, more than double the number needed, were collected, petitioning the city to put the stadium project to a vote. It was approved.

“Our deal involved no financial contribution from the city,” said Butts, who supported the project. “Everything public and private is financed by the developer.”

Only in a year when the city derives more than $25 million in direct tax revenue from the project is it responsible for any financial reimbursement of the cost of public infrastructure, Butts said.

The project received a major benefit on Jan. 12, when the National Football League announced the Rams’ return. The team’s new home will be the Inglewood stadium, where it is expected to start playing in 2019. The door is open for the San Diego Chargers to move to the stadium, too.

Now, just as values have increased in markets affected by the Los Angeles International Airport, Inglewood expects to see the same.

“Since Jan. 12 when the announcement was made, if a Realtor puts a sign on a property in the morning, by the time they get back to the office in the afternoon, they usually have five to six offers, $10,000 to $20,000 over asking price,” Butts said.

Conventional wisdom holds that stadiums, usually partly financed with public money, tend to have minimal positive effects on local economies, said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research group.

“NFL stadiums are used little more than 10 times a year,” Tomer said. “And as we’ve supersized our sports facilities, much like other components of American life, it has become difficult to integrate them into the fabric of our cities.”

But in the case of the Inglewood stadium, he added, “Typical rules may not apply.”

One reason is that the stadium is not directly supported by taxpayers. And Inglewood is close to Los Angeles International Airport and will be accessible by light rail after a Metro stop is completed in 2019.

In the nearby Westside neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Playa Vista development has come to be known as Silicon Beach because it has welcomed outposts of a number of technology companies, including Yahoo, Google and YouTube, increasing the number of residents with good-paying jobs who are looking for places to spend.

While a professional football stadium might not be the reason people and businesses choose Inglewood, Tomer said, it encourages them to consider it.

“This is the kind of pattern we see in highly successful regional economies like LA, San Francisco, New York,” he added. “That’s like your Brooklyn. Inglewood could be on that list, but it’s going to be because of access to other amenities and jobs in the regional district.”

Inglewood businesses hope to claim some of the influx from the project. Linda Credit, 61, opened up the Rusty Pot Café on South Market Street two years ago. The restaurant, one of the few lively storefronts on the street, serves the kind of kale salads and specialty aiolis more often found in nearby Santa Monica.

“I was thinking about moving,” Credit said. But the council members who stopped in for lunch urged her to stay before the NFL announcement. “It’s changing, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Butts said, “I really do believe that within five years you won’t be able to recognize the new Inglewood.”

Amelia Hernandez, 32, runs Selwyn Jewelers, a family business a few blocks from the Rusty Pot Café on South Market Street. While she expressed concerned about how to keep a mom-and-pop business competitive as bigger enterprises come in, she predicted the development would help the area. “Buy in Inglewood,” she said. “Do not sell.”

Last month, Keion Morgan, 37, was in Posh Klipz barbershop in preparation for a job interview as a college recruiter. He grew up in Inglewood and hopes it will have more options as his two young sons mature, he said.

“I’m blessed to — I guess you say — make it out of the ‘hood, or the ‘wood,” he said. “There’s not a lot of opportunity.”

Wells, the barber, said he wanted to secure a long-term lease because he expected rents to rise. But overall, his outlook was positive.

“Clients are excited. We’re excited,” said Wells, who has been in the city 22 years. “And we’re going to get some of those NFL players in that chair.”

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