INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — The 50-yard line is still dirt and weeds around a protruding yellow pipe used for water table measurement. There isn't much more than vacant space and idle construction equipment within a few minutes' walk in any direction.
Only birds and far-away jet engines disturb the quiet on a sunny winter weekday in Inglewood, but this spot will be the heart of the world's next great sports stadium in 3 1/2 years.
And in five years or so, it could be the site of the coin flip before a Super Bowl.
While the NFL wraps up its current season in the Bay Area's Levi's Stadium, the league's newest edifice is preparing to rise 350 miles to the south. The largest contiguous block of unoccupied land in the Los Angeles area will be the site of Rams owner Stan Kroenke's lavish stadium and a massive surrounding complex.
The plan is to build a landmark destination in what's already one of the world's most distinctive metropolitan areas.
"From the beginning, Stan's aspiration for the project has been that this is a legacy project that's going to be one of the great sports and entertainment districts of the world," said Chris Meany, the development manager for the Hollywood Park Land Company.
The stadium's proponents envision Inglewood hosting multiple Super Bowls, the Pro Bowl, the NFL scouting combine, the Final Four, World Cup matches and Olympic events. The NFL is currently deciding how much of the development's 780,000 square feet of office space will be used by the league for everything from its digital ventures to its TV network, creating a West Coast hub for the sport.
The Rams' architectural renderings and detailed proposal for this football-themed wonderland played the decisive role in persuading the league's owners to give Kroenke permission last month to move his team out of St. Louis and back to the West Coast after 21 years away.
It also helped that the work had already begun on translating Kroenke's dream into steel and stone. Construction work has been underway since June 2014, but the official relocation announcement thrilled the people in charge of making the stadium happen.
"Our work hasn't changed, but psychologically, I think the weight got a little greater," Meany said. "I'd like to say it doesn't matter at all, but suddenly your stomach clenches."
The Associated Press was granted an extensive tour this week of the site 4 miles east of Los Angeles International Airport. The complex isn't much more than dirt, crushed concrete, sewer pipe and enormous storm drains today, but excavation of more than 2 million cubic yards of dirt should begin early this summer in a dig that will last through 2016.
Developers say they're well on pace to open the 70,000-seat, clear-roofed football stadium in August 2019. With 42 months to go before the Rams' first kickoff, they're not yet sure how much of the surrounding development will be ready along with it — but a project of this size leaves no time to spare.
"This is one of the most sophisticated sports complexes that will ever be built," said Meany, a Pasadena native who grew up rooting for the Rams. "The one absolute is that that stadium and its surrounding parking grounds and support network all has to be 100 percent done. Nothing else that we build on site will take as long to build as the stadium will. So while we do not have the luxury to delay any work on the stadium, Stan still has time to decide exactly which ingredients he wants delivered at the same time."
There is plenty to do in what's likely to be the world's most expensive stadium when finished.
The football field is only the centerpiece of a sprawling campus including a 6,000-seat theater, about 2,500 residential units, 895,000 square feet of retail space, a 300-room hotel and that extensive office space fronting Prairie Avenue. At least 25 acres of parks, playgrounds and green space — mostly irrigated with reclaimed water in drought-stricken California — will be available to the public on the 340 or so days when football isn't being played.
"It's more than just putting up a building," said Gerard McCallum II, the Hollywood Park company's project manager. "It's thinking about how it will integrate with the community. We're literally in the middle of Los Angeles County, so how do you take advantage of the access to the airport, the beach, downtown Los Angeles and the Westside? The idea is to make this a regional destination center."
About the only thing that isn't big is its height. The low-slung stadium's sail-shaped roof will be just 175 feet above ground, barely taller than the Forum next door and dwarfed by such modern marvels as the Dallas Cowboys' palatial stadium or the Arizona Cardinals' futuristic arena.
The 50-yard line is deep in what was once the infield of Hollywood Park, a venerable LA institution that hosted thoroughbred racing from 1938 until December 2013. The racetrack's formulated dirt is gone, but the bare oval and the banks in the surrounding landscape still exist, waiting to be flattened.
Crews are currently crushing leftover asphalt and concrete for recycled use, but the remains of the racetrack were put to a noble use: During the deconstruction of the grandstands and the surrounding landscaping, the development company allowed numerous law enforcement agencies and over 1,000 firefighters from 110 units across Southern California to do training exercises.
The finish line is still years away, but the people in charge of Kroenke's Inglewood dream seem confident they're building something bigger than themselves.
"This is a great achievement here for Inglewood," said Ken Simeon, the project manager for the construction company doing the stadium complex's infrastructure work. "I live very close to Inglewood. I'm a California native. It's great to see the Rams back in LA."
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