City of Inglewood Mayor James Butts.(Photo by Ringo Chiu)
City of Inglewood Mayor James Butts.(Photo by Ringo Chiu)

For two-decades, Angelenos have prayed, desired, chanted, and petitioned the National Football League to return to the City of Angels.  That desire became a reality on January 12, 2016 when NFL owners, by a vote of 30-2, approved the move of the St. Louis Rams to the City of Inglewood.  That’s right, the city of Inglewood affectionately known, as the ‘City on the Move’ will become home to the Los Angeles Rams.

Remember when “Triple Crown winners ran at Hollywood Park and when the Los Angeles Lakers were winning championships at the Forum?”  According to Inglewood’s Mayor James T. Butts, “This is right at the top of our finest moments,” and he should know.

Mayor Butts helped to broker a deal that most thought would not and could not happen.  The Los Angeles Sentinel talked with Mayor Butts about this transformative and historical accomplishment.

 LAS:   Congratulations on the NFL returning to the Los Angeles area.  You must be so thrilled.

JTB:   I’m very thrilled.  In fact, my father took me to the Coliseum as a young boy to see the Rams.  I grew up on the Roman Gabriel, Jack Snow, Fearsome Foursome, Deacon Jones Rams so for the City of Inglewood to be the vessel that brings a football legacy back to the region is a double honor.

 LAS:   From the very beginning when the stadium was just a dream, did you always believe it was possible to bring the LA Rams to Inglewood?

JTB:   When I took office on February 1, 2011, there was already a 60-acre parcel owned by Wal-Mart in the Hollywood Park Tomorrow area.  This parcel was already titled to be a mixed-use office, retail, park, and hotel space.  I thought that a football team in the remaining space as a joint venture would be a fantastic thing.

So I began talking with Mark Davis of the Oakland Raiders and we couldn’t put the money together right for that.  So we negotiated with Madison Square Garden concurrently for them to invest a $100 Million in the Forum and that turned out to be so successful.  Within 11 months, the Forum became the No. 1 concert venue in the greater Los Angeles area.

(Courtesy Photo)
(Courtesy Photo)

About two-years ago, Stan Kroenke came along and that morphed into discussions about a joint venture with the Stockbridge Capital Group and the owners of Hollywood Park Tomorrow to bring a football team back to this area.  This discussion caught fire and I personally felt that this would be the best venue for the NFL from an economic profit standpoint and for the quality of uses that would be available for the NFL that would not be available anywhere else.

Our parcel was twice as big as what Carson was offering – 298 acres, about twice as large as Vatican City.  We were proposing 1.7 million square feet of retail and office space, an 80,000-seat stadium, 6,000-seat performance venue, 300-room hotel, 2,500 residential units, and 25 acres of public parks, playgrounds, and office space and there is still room for things like the NFL Networks, and a west coast Hall of Fame.  So here you had a venue that instead of being available for use 10 days a year is now available 365 days a year with synergistically compatible uses that would draw people to each.

LAS:  It’s interesting that you would say that because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the “Inglewood Stadium will change not just NFL stadiums but sports complexes around the world.”  Your reaction to his statement.

JTB:  That is my total sentiment and that was our dream that this is not just a sports complex but also an entertainment center.  It’s our belief that this will be the No. 1 entertainment venue in the world because of the uniqueness of the combination of uses.

LAS:  I know you have previously stated that no public funds will be used to build the stadium or any of the private parts of the development.  So I would like to ask you a series of true/false questions.

LAS:   True or False. The City of Inglewood will never pay one dime for construction of the Stadium or any of the private parts of the development?

JTB:   Absolutely true.  We will never pay for the construction of the Stadium and one private thing that goes up there.

LAS:  True or False.  The developer will pay 100% of the construction costs for the public and private parts of the development?

JTB:   It’s a 100% true.

LAS:  True or False.  The City of Inglewood has a hiring goal of 30%?  And if true, how will you track this?

JTB:   Actually the goal is 35%.  They will have to turn in certified payrolls and that’s how we will track this.  But let me say this, you cannot discriminate against people on the basis of where they live so this is not the type of thing where thou shalt not hire someone from a certain zip code.

What this means is that you provide training programs, and outreach to give Inglewood residents the opportunity to obtain skills that they might not have so that they can qualify for these jobs.

With the Forum we surpassed our 35% hiring goal.  We anticipate now that there will be over 40,000 construction jobs over the six or seven year build-out period and 12,000 permanent and part-time jobs.  The advantage of someone being involved in projects like this is that once you become union certified and once you have completed your job here, you can qualify for other jobs.

LAS:  True or False.  There are no liens on any city asset for the building of the stadium or any private parts of the development?

JTB:   There are absolutely no liens of any type for public or private parts.

Inglewood Chamber of Commerce Opening 1

 LAS:  True or False.  The City of Inglewood will get four public parks covering 26.1 acres and the developer will pay for the maintenance of those parks?

JTB:   The parks will be deeded to the City over time.  So that is true.  There are three acres of those parks that have security implications for the private development itself.

So 23 of those acres will be deeded to the City and the developer will absolutely pay for the maintenance of those parks.  The developer can recoup that costs if we make more than $25 million in taxes in a year from the totality of the development.  And if we never make more than $25 million in a year, there will never be a reimbursement for any of the public services that the developer provides for us.

LAS:  True or False.  The City of Inglewood will receive four acres of land for its use and that land is already valued at $8 million?

JTB:   True – its 4.5 acres and yes, its valued at $8 million.

 LAS:  Many skeptics did not believe that the City of Inglewood or you could pull off a win/win deal.  Most people probably do not realize that you have a Master’s in Business Administration and considerable management experience.  Were your surprised by that?

JTB:   The media in general has a cognitive basis, racially at times when it comes to assessing capacity.  I really want to make this clear.  The first thought is this: if the city is Black or Brown primarily as we are, the thought is that they could not possibly pull this off so they are being used.  Every radio show or television show that I went on in the beginning, the narrative was: isn’t clear to you that the Rams are using you as leverage against St. Louis?  That was their narrative.  I would say no, I’ve met Stan Kroenke and I believe he is serious and he knows I am a serious person, and we both believed that this could work.

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., left, and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke take questions at a news conference at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. The Rams are returning to play in 2016 in the Los Angeles area. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., left, and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke take questions at a news conference at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. The Rams are returning to play in 2016 in the Los Angeles area. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

When they found that he (Kroenke) purchased the land, the narrative was this: well you really don’t understand the deal you’re involved in; you’re really paying for this.  Even though it was explained to them as clearly as I am explaining it to you, they would go out to the site and say things like who’s really paying for this?

I was interviewed by one reporter who asked me on camera if I was prepared to resign if things didn’t turn out the way I said it would.  I want you to get this….we are talking about the City of Inglewood having the opportunity of a lifetime but instead the narrative is my resignation, if somehow we loose our dream of having a team because of my error.

Here we are talking about the City of Inglewood making this bold move to do something that no one has been able to accomplish in 21 years and yet my possible resignation is the focus of the story.  I learned a lot about people’s perceptions and biases of a place during this process.  All I could do was to represent our project and our city in a professional manner.

I believed that if the decision was going to be made based on what made economic sense, I knew the choice would be Inglewood.  But it was a vote and sometimes votes are not rational, they are political.  Whenever there is a vote, you depend upon relationships and how people feel about the participants, votes can be irrational sometimes… hey…I lost three mayoral races before I was elected Mayor.

LAS:   That’s what makes this story so great, your persistence and gravitas.  Five years ago, the City of Inglewood was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Can you put into words what the stadium project means to the to you personally?

JTB:    I was an Inglewood police officer for 19 years from 1972 to 1991.  I left the department as a deputy police chief where I ran the department day-to-day.  I was Chief of Police in Santa Monica for 15 years and we cut the crime rate by 64%.  By the time I left it was an international tourist destination and I thought that would be my greatest body of work.  I was recruited to work for the Los Angeles Airport System in charge of counter-terrorism, the police department, and security and by the time I left, we were rated No. 1 in the country by the Transportation Safety Administration.

   When I came here (the City of Inglewood), we were a very inefficient city and I had to do a lot of tough things.  We have gone from having our last $11 Million in the bank to having $40 Million in the bank; we’ve raised property values by 51%, and Moody’s has upgraded us and said that our financial position is robust, our cash balance is stronger than the US median and we’ve far surpassed other Moody-rated cities in terms of financial stability.  I’m extremely proud of that.  I’m proud of our City Council, and all those who worked on this project.  I’m bursting at the seams with pride.

LAS:   There have been environmental concerns raised about project and the safety of the location of the stadium.  Would you care to respond to those concerns?

JTB:   It really isn’t a concern.  The Staples Center and the Coliseum are in the flight path…that’s a part of life in Los Angeles.

LAS:   I’m sure you’ve heard from many well-wishers.  Have you heard from Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti and can you share any of that conversation?

JTB:   I have not heard from Mayor Garcetti.

LAS:   The Los Angeles Lakers left in 1999 and now 17 years later, Inglewood is a major player in the nation’s second largest media market.  Any future plans to run for Governor or Senator from California?

JTB:  (Laughter….lots of laughter)