By Nicole Piper, Kristen Lago and Brad Streicher

With the St. Louis Rams moving to Los Angeles this fall, and the team's new stadium taking shape on a 60-acre complex in Inglewood, economic forces are at play that will wield profound changes on the city, which has struggled with crime and poverty.

The rapid injection of so much new infrastructure, according to Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., and University of Southern California sports and media professor Jeff Fellenzer, will have a significant effect on small businesses in Inglewood.

"It's certainly a great opportunity for small businesses. The larger chains will also see it as a great opportunity, and of course they'll have the ability to pay the going rate, however significant it is," said Fellenzer. "It's going to be a game changer for the area, for the league, because now you have this huge market, this Mecca of sports and entertainment, having a real football palace."

Inglewood residents and business owners have already noticed some of the changes the soon-to-arrive NFL stadium will bring to the area. Longtime resident Kelly Caohoun lamented the problems associated with the sudden interest in property in the area.

"It's not like it was when the Lakers were here 20 years ago," said Calhoun. "[Rent] is twice as much now."

Inglewood has gone through some drastic changes since the 1990s when L.A.'s basketball and hockey teams left the Inglewood's famous Forum stadium to play in downtown Los Angeles' Staples Center.

According to small business owners in the area, industries in the 90s thrived and crime rates were low. In the early 2000s, after the Lakers moved to downtown L.A.'s Staples Center, the city changed. According to Arif Khan, owner of Flip It Café on Manchester Avenue, crime went up around the same time as the basketball team and its fans left.

"The previous owner's son was murdered at this location. We found out after we took over," said Khan, who came to the city 15 years ago to manage an iHop.

Since then, the Inglewood Police Department has worked to combat crime and erase the stigma surrounding the area. Mayor James T. Butts Jr., said the city just celebrated five consecutive years of record low crime rates.

City officials hope the new football stadium will be more than an arena for sports games. The city aims to draw crowds to Inglewood and keep them, a goal the city failed to achieve when fans flocked to the Forum for games.

When the Lakers played in the Forum from 1967 to 1999, the city boomed. Still, in those days, the team didn't generate the business and real estate potential today's stadium is already drawing in.

"It was an area that really didn't get developed a lot when the Forum came in the late 60s," Fellenzer said. "It was almost shocking how little development took place around the Forum. I think it was just a perception that people didn't want to come and spend any real time in Inglewood. They would come for the games and leave."

The arrival of the Rams, and all the team promises to bring with it, already have some in Inglewood cheering.

Mayor Butts said the city will be welcoming more than a stadium complex. He said residents and visitors would see 800,000 square feet of new retail and dining options, 780,000 square feet of office space, four public parks covering 26 acres, a lake, 2,500 residential units and a movie theater.

"What we envision is that this will be less of a football field and more of an arena, and that it will be host to a plethora of events like the Final Four, World Cup soccer, the Grammys, huge concerts and NFL football," said Butts, who added that "[the stadium] will be the centerpiece of what will be a multilayer development."

As a whole, small businesses are optimistic that the new stadium will bring more business to the sleepy city. Restaurant owners hope customers will come flocking through their doors before and after games.

 

Despite the positivity felt by Inglewood business owners, the stadium also brings an aspect of uncertainty to the area. Property value has already risen exponentially, and many small business owners, who lease their spaces, will have to pay higher rent.

However, business owners like Khan seem confident that as rent rises, revenue will follow. He was not alone in his optimism. Jackie Cooke, owner of the Oasis Salon, has seen the improvements to Manchester Boulevard throughout the years and thinks things can only get better.

"I don't see any negatives of the stadium being here at all," said Cooke.

Adolf Dulan, owner of Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen agreed, saying, "You know, something like that comes into the community and it rejuvenates the community."

Fellenzer also noted that community organizers seemed to notice that previous city sports teams have brought new life to cities across the nation. He compared the construction of Inglewood's NFL stadium to the construction of Jerry Jones Stadium in Dallas or the San Francisco Giants' move from a stadium in the suburbs to the city's center.

However, while the stadium seems likely to breathe new life into the community, small businesses may not be able to keep up with the rising rent prices, particularly if franchises are willing to pay competitive prices.

One of the biggest threats to small businesses in the area is the inevitable influx of larger chain stores as the area begins to draws increasingly large crowds. When fans drive to the stadium, they're likely to grab a post-game bite at a well-known franchise like In-n-Out as opposed to the lesser-reviewed corner burger joint.

Though some business owners remain positive about what this entertainment behemoth may mean for them, many factors influence each restaurant, store or market differently. While some places may thrive, others will fail. The small businesses that succeed will be the ones that embrace the spirit of the team, can pay competitive rents and that offer customers unique products unmatched by big business.

The possibility that franchises could push small businesses out of Inglewood is one that Fellenzer acknowledged to be very real.

"Whether or not they get priced out will be determined in time," Fellenzer said. "It depends on those businesses, on their ability to adjust to their surroundings and to make a significant investment in their business."