Q&A: AEG's Tim Leiweke

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From his third-floor office in downtown Los Angeles, AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke oversees a multitude of sports and entertainment properties around the globe. But his biggest investment, both monetary and emotional, is right outside his window: L.A. Live. The 5.6 million-square-foot development -- which includes Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, ESPN studios, office space and a dozen restaurants -- has already been credited with sparking the revitalization of downtown L.A. With the addition of the Regal Cinemas Stadium 14, opening Oct. 27, and the 54-story Ritz-Carlton/J.W. Marriott Hotel, scheduled to open early next year, it will soon be getting bigger. Leiweke recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Todd Longwell about the progress his corporation has been making.

The Hollywood Reporter: AEG isn't a public company, so you don't have to reveal any profit and loss figures, but it would seem quite a challenge to put a project like L.A. Live into the black.

Tim Leiweke: In the midst of the worst recession and economic times since the Great Depression, we're in the middle of singularly the largest development project in all of L.A., with $2.5 billion-$3 billion in hard costs that we're putting into this campus. The question is, are we crazy or do we see the turn in the economy and believe that this project and this city will be well situated for future events, activity and business? That's the big bet. But I can tell you, in our business plan our projects have to stand on their own two feet.

THR: What about the hotel?

Leiweke: If you sat down and said, "Do you spend $1 billion on a hotel and open it up in the middle of a recession?" We'd all agree the answer to that would be, "Not if you can avoid it." The reality is we're opening our hotel on Feb. 15, and we clearly know that we will be challenged the first year or so as the hotel business and the convention business are not stellar.

THR: Do you think the size and reach of AEG causes some people to look for conspiracies, like the brouhaha about the recent fundraiser for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Summer Night Lights program?

Leiweke: I know that people were talking about a conspiracy with (the) Michael Jackson (memorial), but what I've never understood there is why our company would want anything in a negative light to happen to him, based on the money invested and the fact that we had 50 dates booked at the 02 (in London), which is now sitting there empty. It defies logic. When a company's big in this current environment that we live in and the recession is affecting all of us, we're a natural target for people to shoot at when you talk about greed or corporate profits. The reality is that we're a company that continues to reinvest every penny that we've ever made right back into L.A., e.g. the Ritz-Carlton/J.W. Marriott Hotel. We continue to go out and do the best we can to make our community better -- we've given $65 million back to local charities -- and we're trying to the best of our availability not to go through a massive layoff and put people out of their jobs. AEG has 15,000 employees worldwide and we're probably one of the fastest-growing companies based out of L.A. I'm hoping at some point or another people see us as a friend.
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