By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles City Council on Friday approved a $1.2 billion plan to build a downtown football stadium, moving the No. 2 U.S. city closer than it's been in years to having a professional football team.
Council members voted unanimously in favor of the Anschutz Entertainment Group's proposal to erect the 72,000-seat stadium in the city's downtown core, to be christened "Farmer's Field." AEG, controlled by billionaire Phil Anschutz, is up for sale but an agreement with the city will require its new owners to take up the stadium project.
Hundreds of football fans in the yellow-and-blue jerseys of the Rams football team, ushers from sports arena Staples Center sporting "Farmers Field" T-shirts, and even carpenters' union members turned up at Friday's vote, jamming the meeting room and spilling into the hallways outside. NBA Hall of Famer and local celebrity Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived to raucous applause.
AEG executives say they plan to lure a National Football League team to anchor the envisioned stadium. The St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders are among teams expected to be contacted.
The city has been without professional football since 1994, when ironically the Rams, then playing in nearby Anaheim, as well as the Raiders, both left. Business and labor groups had spoken in favor of a plan that could create from 20,000 to 30,000 jobs and generate business downtown, while critics had protested about traffic congestion and costs to the city.
Biotech entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong - who sat in the front row in the meeting room on Friday - has said he was interested in buying AEG and owning an NFL team. L.A.'s richest man, whose wealth is estimated at more than $7 billion, said he will use AEG's sports teams and its concert touring business to help promote healthy lifestyles to youth.
AEG's construction proposal involves the issuance of $314.6 million in bonds, backed by taxes, lease agreements and other revenue sources. No direct public funding will be involved.
The council's approval is expected to create fierce competition between AEG and Majestic Realty, which has won the OK to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry, miles from the downtown district.
NFL owners are expected to meet in March, when they could approve the transfer of a football franchise, if an agreement is reached to relocate a club to Los Angeles.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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