LAFC's Henry Nguyen: Our stadium will be "one of the cathedrals of soccer"

LOS ANGELES – Southern California's newest Major League Soccer club unveiled its plans for a new stadium Monday that it promised would be a “cathedral” for soccer while helping to revitalize what has traditionally been one of Los Angeles' more troubled neighborhoods.

The privately financed $250 million complex on the site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, next to the Coliseum in Exposition Park, will include a 22,000-seat stadium that the Los Angeles Football Club – its current name, although that could change – will call home when it kicks off in 2018.

Managing partner Henry Nguyen described the planned facility as “an intimate, really tight, urban, sound-box stadium.”

“We want it to be one of the cathedrals of soccer in this country and around the world,” he said at a press conference at the proposed stadium site on Monday. “The great opportunity here is that LA is the world city, and this is the monument to the world's game here.”

“We want to be an Old Trafford [Manchester United's stadium] or a Camp Nou [Barcelona's stadium],” he told reporters later. “We want to build that kind of not only environment, but landmark.”

There are still a few hoops to jump through – an addendum to an existing environmental impact report will be required, as well as approvals at the state, city and county level – but club president Tom Penn said that the hope is to break ground in 10 months.

It would take two years to demolish the Sports Arena, which has been in use since 1959, and construct the new facility, the first major open-air stadium within city limits since Dodger Stadium opened 53 years ago.

“This makes us real and it gives us roots and really defines what we're all about,” Penn said. “Including our name, our colors, everything, it had to come from where we were going to be. So to be authentically LA, right here downtown, was very important to us.”

LAFC originally intended to begin play in MLS in 2017, but the timeline for stadium development forced them to delay their entry by a year. Nguyen, who heads a deep-pocketed and big-name ownership group that also includes sports and entertainment mogul Peter Guber, US World Cup champion Mia Hamm Garciaparra, and NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, acknowledged some disappointment with the delay, but noted that it was necessary.

“I think we'd all like to get started as soon as we can, but these processes take time,” he said. “We're fortunate that this site has an environmental impact report that was already completed, but that doesn't mean that we've got a clear, unobstructed path forward. We still have a lot of work to do, and that's going to take time.

“We're very fortunate with the city council and the mayor's office and the management of Exposition Park here, I think everybody's leaning forward and supportive of getting this done, but there's still a lot of things that we've got to make sure that we do the right things.”

Monday's festivities, just west of the historic peristyle end of the Coliseum, included speeches by Guber, Johnson, Hamm Garciaparra and her husband, former baseball star Nomar Garciaparra. 

Johnson said there were “about four or five” other locations in Southern California that LAFC considered, “but we wanted to be here.”

Nguyen noted that the Coliseum could be used for big games – “We expect one day our clasicos [against the LA Galaxy] to draw 80,000, 90,000 people,” he said – but stated there were no plans to play there should there be delays in acquiring approval for the complex or in its construction.

“We only have one chance to make a first impression, and we want to do it in our new stadium and new home ...,” he said. “There is no Plan B for me right now. It's got to be Plan A all the way, we've got to open here in March '18. Obviously, things will evolve, and we'll adapt to it if they do evolve.”

“We've got a lot of champions here,” noted Johnson, who starred for the Los Angeles Lakers and is part of the Los Angeles Dodgers' ownership group. “USC football, the Lakers not too far away, all of that. And we want to be part of that champions row, right around the corner.”

There has been significant refurbishment to the north of Exposition Park, around the USC campus and with L.A. Live, and the aim is to extend that to the south, where the new stadium will sit.

“What Staples Center did for downtown, this will do for South Los Angeles,” Johnson predicted.

“It's just a natural kind of next step in the evolution of development and revitalization of the downtown corridor here,” Nguyen said. “The Figueroa corridor is something that's been talked about, even for decades, and now we have an opportunity to be one of the southern gateways or landmarks of this corridor.”

Plans for the complex include restaurants, retail, offices and conference space, plus a world football museum, and the club plans to create a plaza between the Coliseum and the new facility that will help breed an environment similar to that outside the stadiums in Seattle and Portland. Nguyen said there's interest in creating something similar, from the Metro subway station at the northern end of Exposition Park, to the Sounders' march to the match.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who also spoke on Monday, credited the status of the ownership group in getting a deal finalized.

“This is a very deeply connected local ownership group,” Garber said. “When you have Magic and Peter Guber and Mia Hamm and Nomar sitting down and talking about what they want to do in the community, people pay attention. They have the financial capacity to privately fund the stadium... It's why we needed to make a change [with the second Los Angeles franchise], and that change has been very positive for MLS, very positive for the city.”

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