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Hurry Up And Wait: Without Foot Traffic, SoFi Stadium’s Community Impact Promises Remain Untested

The idea was to build a city within a city — an NFL stadium, thousands of SF of retail, office and residential space, artificial lakes, entertainment venues — on more than 240 acres in the city of Inglewood. Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s vision was to take this space, formerly occupied by a racetrack and parking lots, and turn it into what is now SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park.

Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, the nation’s most expensive NFL venue to date, was painted as an economic engine for the city, a draw that would bring tens of thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars. The $5B SoFi Stadium ended up opening in a pandemic, and the games that were played there were, for public health reasons, held without any fans in attendance. 

“We haven’t been able to tell at all if the stadium’s going to help us,” Inglewood restaurant Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen owner Terry Dulan told Eater LA. "It’s too early to tell."

For now, the impact of the stadium and Hollywood Park on the surrounding community, for better and for worse, is paused because of the coronavirus pandemic. But many are still hopeful that the benefits of the stadium, and a handful of other big-ticket projects coming to the city, will combine to help Inglewood and its residents flourish. 

SoFi Stadium

“Not that many years ago, few would have thought that the gentrification of Inglewood would be a cause for concern among the city’s residents and leaders,” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts wrote in a May 2019 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Stories of dramatically rising rents and increasingly frequent evictions fueled fears that the impending economic boom in the city, a longtime Black enclave that now has an equally large Latinx population, would leave many residents behind or push them out entirely. 

Just two decades before, in 1999, the city was “headed toward bankruptcy” after two LA sports teams, the Lakers and Kings, decamped to the then-freshly opened Staples Center in Downtown LA, leaving Inglewood’s Forum behind, Butts wrote.

By 2019, Inglewood had locked in the NFL stadium and adjacent sprawling residential, retail and office redevelopment and a stop on a new light rail line to the airport, and plans for the Clippers’ new basketball arena on a city-owned parcel were well underway. Though there were a handful of high-ticket projects coming to the city, Hollywood Park, the name for the combination of the stadium and the massive mixed-use project next door, became the centerpiece. 

Local leaders looked to the stadium as a major job creator and hoped it would bring foot traffic to the city that would be a boon for existing businesses.

The construction phase alone involved more than 17,000 workers, Hollywood Park Managing Director Jason Gannon told Bisnow in an email. By Hollywood Park’s count, 2,200 of those jobs were filled by workers from Inglewood and nearby South LA, Hawthorne, Compton and Gardena. 

But the pandemic has hampered further hiring plans for workers whose jobs would revolve around the roster of events at the stadium, which so far haven't been open to the public because of the pandemic. 

“When we are able to host fans in the building on an event day, we will resume our event-day hiring efforts,” Gannon wrote.

The pause at the stadium has meant that those restaurants and businesses that were waiting to see if stadium-goers would become customers still don’t know the answer. They, too, are battling challenges brought on by the pandemic, but with considerably fewer resources than the Hollywood Park project.

The pandemic affected Hollywood Park’s timeline too. When the first three tenants at Hollywood Park were announced in September 2019, the plan was to have Phase 1 of the development open within a year of the stadium’s summer 2020 opening, Gannon told Bisnow at the time. Now, the first phase of the development, 300 residences and more than 1.5M SF of retail and office space, will open starting in February 2022, Gannon wrote. 

Though the pandemic has accelerated many trends in office and retail sectors that have some market watchers worried that both markets may be on the precipice of major change, Gannon indicated that there wouldn’t be adjustments made to the planned uses of the Hollywood Park project. 

“Hollywood Park’s retail, residential and office offerings are designed with the future in mind,” Gannon wrote. 

Hollywood Park, when built out, will include up to 5M SF of office space, as many as 3,000 housing units, a hotel, and a 500K SF retail and entertainment area.

Like Hollywood Park’s leaders, many active in commercial real estate remain optimistic that Hollywood Park’s benefits for the city will kick in once the pandemic passes. 

“There is an economic opportunity in Inglewood that people are going to focus on,” Los Angeles LDC President and CEO Michael Banner said.

The Hollywood Park complex will draw attention to that opportunity, he said, comparing it to LA Live, the entertainment complex in Downtown LA that is centered on the Staples Center, blazing a trail for more investment into that part of Downtown. 

The LA Live comparison, especially the gradual rise of the entertainment hub, also seemed apt to Raise Director Katie Bernhisel, whose clients include property owners in Inglewood’s downtown.

“It took a couple of years for it to become an entertainment destination, but it has revitalized all of the South Park neighborhood and put it on the map,” Bernhisel said in an email.

SoFi Stadium is poised to be followed by a stream of other big-ticket investments. By the time Hollywood Park’s first phase of office, retail and residential opens next year, the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project should be up and running following two delays. By that same time, the Clippers' new $1.2B arena, about a half-mile away from Hollywood Park, is expected to be under construction.