It's showtime again at the Forum.
No, the Lakers are not returning to the Inglewood arena where, along with the L.A. Kings, they made their mark throughout the last third of the past century. But, after more than a dozen years of underuse by the Faithful Central Bible Church, the Forum is back and is ready to rock Los Angeles once again.
The defunct venue was bought by the Madison Square Garden Co. and refurbished for a hefty $100 million to transform the Forum into what the new owners boast will be “the largest indoor performance venue in the country designed with a focus on music and entertainment.”
It reopens Wednesday with the first of six concerts by the Eagles. That series of shows will be interrupted by one night of Justin Timberlake on Jan. 20, followed by a sprinkling of shows from Latin rock legend Alejandra Guzman to Imagine Dragons, Sting and Paul Simon, comedian Chelsea Handler, Kings of Leon and — it's hoped — many other stars known for sold-out shows and loyal fans.
A many-splendored concert venue back in the day, the old Forum hosted 16 Led Zeppelin shows, two early Jackson 5 engagements that resulted in a live album and concerts that also led to live recordings from Barbra Streisand, Cream, Nirvana and, of course, the Eagles.
“The Eagles in 1980 was my first date,” Jeanie Buss recalled of the Forum.
Buss, daughter of the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss and the team's current executive vice president, remembered a number of details about the Forum's music fans.
“The hours leading up to a concert were always entertaining because you had to check out the tour merchandise for sale — official tour T-shirt a must; skip the key chain — and watch the crowd arrive and settle in,” she said.
Among the sights that were most memorable, she said, were “tons of cowboy hats in the audience for the Garth Brooks show, lots of tie-dyed shirts when The Grateful Dead were in town and, funniest thing, when the Spice Girls performed, it was the one concert that didn't sell out the parking lot because it was moms with eight kids arriving in a mini-van.”
From back-to-back NBA championships in the 1980s to Prince's epic 21-concert streak at the Forum, the best sports and music memories of L.A. are steeped at the Forum, said “Captain Skyhook” himself, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“As part of my Lakers contract, I was able to use the Forum to promote two concerts, so I took full advantage, promoting both the great Diana Ross and the incomparable Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who is now taking the opportunity to launch his new sports memorabilia company Starguard Collectibles that feature Showtime Lakers items.
Others felt the Forum was always a better sports arena than music venue and now have high expectations for the new incarnation.
James Worthy, a standout on the 1980s and '90s Lakers team, recalls catching Stevie Wonder and Madonna concerts at the former Forum.
“To be quite honest, I don't think the building was made for music because, then, the acoustics were not that great,” said Worthy, now a Time Warner Cable SportsNet Lakers studio analyst. “But I think now that they've reconstructed it and made it specifically for music. From the people I've talked to, all of the sound has been improved. I just can't wait to check it out.”
The city of Inglewood sure hopes other are just as anxious to come see — and hear — what the new Forum has to offer. Its economy was devastated after the Lakers and Kings moved to the Staples Center in 1999, when that newer venue also became the premiere big concert destination in Southern Calfornia.
“I was vividly aware of the Forum's closure's impact on the city,” said Inglewood Mayor James Butts. “The music died here in Inglewood.”
Butts, who grew up just outside of Inglewood's borders and served on its police force for 19 years, saw the first two concerts of his life — Sly & the Family Stone and Carole King — at the Forum and said that once the two major sports teams left Inglewood, the big-name concerts also stopped.
“That began a series of economic events that actually led to the decline of the city. We went from having surpluses and carrying over balances every year in the city of Inglewood to a period of time — between 2006 and 2010, I want to say — where the city burned through between $45- and $50 million of reserves just to balance budgets,” he said.
Shortly after Butts came into office in 2011, Inglewood had an $18.6 million structural deficit that, over nearly two years, had been reduced to $7 million, all while the $23 million MSG Forum purchase was negotiated, Butts said.
As part of the deal, the city made an $18 million rehabilitation loan to MSG — whose executives declined numerous requests by Los Angeles News Group to comment for this article before the venue's media open house on Jan. 14 — and MSG invested at least $50 million more in refurbishing the Forum.
The old Forum generated about $800,000 a year in income for Inglewood. MSG is guaranteeing at least $675,000 annually, Butts said. The more immediate benefits, however, will come in the form of jobs. More than 260 construction jobs were created for the overhaul of the Forum and 250 full-time jobs are expected to be filled during the venue's operation, welcoming news for a city that has a 15 percent unemployment rate.
Although MSG promises many new concessions at its 17,500 capacity venue, Inglewood may need Hollywood Park Tomorrow's additional destinations if it really wants to compete with L.A. Live-adjacent Staples. The huge retail and residential project on the nearby grounds of the just-shuttered Hollywood Park racetrack has been stalled for years until recently, which Butts attributes to the MSG deal. Hollywood Park Tomorrow is now scheduled to break ground in the spring.
“I would say that, most definitely, the news that Madison Square Garden was going to make their only West Coast operation in the city of Inglewood probably had a positive impact on (Hollywood Park Tomorrow's) investors and their decisions,” Butts said.
The much-larger downtown arena's operators, at least, don't sound too concerned about the new competition.
“In 14 years now, we've never had a problem with anybody trying to route into our building on a major concert tour,” said Lee Zeidman, senior vice president and general manager of Staples Center. “Last year, we did 53 shows and 38 of them sold out. So we believe that the building sells tickets.”
Miley Cyrus apparently agrees. Her anticipated Los Angeles show on Feb. 22 is booked at Staples, not the Forum.
But even Zeidman, who worked 10 years at the Inglewood venue before heading downtown, is interested in checking out the new Inglewood arena as are those who once ruled at the old, Fabulous Forum.
Current Lakers star Kobe Bryant, whose first three NBA seasons were at the Forum, knows that though NBA games won't be at the new venue “it's still great to have it reopening for events, people who've never been there (will) be able to go there and enjoy such a historic venue.”
“I hope to get there for a concert sometime soon.”