INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) Stan Kroenke had dreamed of turning over this particular ceremonial shovelful of dirt ever since his first pre-dawn glimpse of this corner of Inglewood several years ago.
The real estate tycoon relished the thought of filling the largest block of contiguous unused land in the Los Angeles area with a lavish, career-defining stadium for his Rams. Under a brilliant Southern California sun Thursday, the team owner officially broke ground on the project with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts at his side.
''This was so impressive,'' Kroenke said, recalling his initial late-night clandestine visit to the site. ''Honestly, I couldn't believe it existed. From my perspective, this should not exist. From our perspective at the NFL, (the situation) probably shouldn't have existed, either. There should not have been a market like the greater Los Angeles area with no NFL team. But both of them existed, and we were very excited, so we started working.''
The groundbreaking was merely ceremonial: Work has already begun on the estimated $2.6 billion stadium and surrounding entertainment district on the former site of the Hollywood Park racetrack, next door to the famed Forum.
The huge construction site is buzzing with crews working toward the scheduled August 2019 opening. The first stadium to be built specifically for an NFL team in Los Angeles is already booked to host the Super Bowl in February 2021.
The 69-year-old Kroenke, a billionaire developer married to a Walmart heiress, clearly sees the project as a centerpiece of his legacy from a career spent building less-glamorous projects around the nation.
''It's our goal to build the most unique and fan-friendly stadium in the world,'' Kroenke said. ''We're going to give you something to be proud of. We're going to build a global destination ... in the entertainment capital of the world. We think people from all over the world will seek this location out.''
While Kroenke finessed the Rams' move back home from St. Louis over the past few years, his building plan eventually grew to the dimensions of a small city. The estimated 80,000-seat stadium will have 275 luxury suites and innumerable amenities, but it's only the centerpiece of a 300-acre complex featuring 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space, 2,500 residential units, a smaller performance arena, a hotel and 25 acres of parkland.
The NFL made several aborted attempts to return to LA during Goodell's tenure in the league office, but the plans never gathered momentum until Kroenke presented a sound financial plan to build a stadium complex that could become the West Coast hub for the NFL's operations.
''We are confident that this is going to be the place to be in 2019 and beyond,'' Goodell said. ''Not just for football, but for entertainment, for events, for eating, for living, for working. That's what's going to come to Inglewood and the Hollywood Park area, and we couldn't be more excited to have the NFL be a part of that.''
Kroenke has returned the Rams to the market after a 21-year absence, moving them out of his native Missouri and back into LA, where he lives for most of the year. The NFL bought into Kroenke's relocation plan in January largely due to his solid stadium plan, but also required the Rams to prepare for the possibility of an AFC team joining them.
The Rams are still waiting to find out whether they'll have roommates in Inglewood. The San Diego Chargers are contemplating their future after their latest failed stadium ballot measure, with a January deadline to announce their plans.
Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said Kroenke speaks to Chargers President Dean Spanos regularly, but the Rams don't know the Chargers' intentions.
If the Chargers elect to take yet another shot at San Diego, the Oakland Raiders could have the opportunity to return to Los Angeles, where they were based from 1982-94. The Raiders are expected to file for relocation to Las Vegas in January, but the Chargers' decision could clear the way for a more lucrative move back to Los Angeles.
''If they get their issues resolved in San Diego and the issues in Oakland, I think that's an ideal solution, frankly,'' Goodell said. ''That's what we would all like to see have happen. There's a lot that has to get done in those two communities to get there.''
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