How Far From the Forum to the New Arena?
Ten Miles and a Cloud of Angst
By Idelle Davidson

For Capitol Records music executive Ron Laffitte, the Lakers' move from the Great Western Forum in Inglewood to the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles marks a bittersweet ending to a glorious era. "There was a certain family atmosphere among the Laker regulars at the Forum," says Laffitte, who attended games there for 10 years. "I know the usher in the parking lot; I know all the ticket takers."

He is eagerly renewing his season tickets, which will put him five rows behind the Laker bench. But he's a bit concerned about the change. "I knew where I parked, I knew my route to get there," he says. "I'm a little anxious about starting over again."

Although the Kings anticipate that 90% of their season ticket-holders will renew and the Lakers forecast few cancellations (the Clippers declined to estimate renewals since they won't have final tallies until November), Laffitte is not the only fan with trepidation.

Center officials expect anxiety and confusion, which they say is understandable given the uncertainty that surrounds any move from familiar terrain. "I think after the first few games they'll catch on," says the arena's parking director, Larry Isrow. Yet some fans remain skeptical.

UCLA senior Greg Cooper considers himself a Laker stalwart, but says he won't drive to the Staples Center any time soon. "The arena is right at the intersection of the 10 and the 110, which are two of the most heavily traversed freeways in the world. The traffic will be beyond nightmare."

It doesn't have to be that way, says Allyn Rifkin, chief of transportation planning for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. "We have the image of everyone sitting on the freeway, gridlocked, when they could just make use of our arterial streets," which are "underutilized during the evening hours in this particular area," he says. He notes that commuters who normally would battle the Santa Monica Freeway, for example, could easily drive down Washington, Venice, Olympic or Pico boulevards.

For Laker fan Geno Mville, personal safety is the issue. A few years back, he and his young son were robbed in a parking lot as they were leaving the Sports Arena, which also is downtown, and he says he has little confidence that security will prove adequate in the 22 lots around the Staples Center.

But Bobby Goldwater, the Staples Center's general manager, insists that "there will be a significant LAPD presence before, during and after the events," with officers patrolling in cars, on bicycles and horseback around well-lighted lots. The arena also will employ private security officers.

Clipper supporter Cindy LeVeque worries that seating in the new arena will alienate the truly devoted. Though she plans to travel to a game or two from her home in Cerritos, LeVeque thinks "that luxury boxes are ridiculous and are invented for corporate types only. No real basketball fan wants to sit in a glass box."

Christopher Flynn of Thousand Oaks is a fervent King fan. But he won't be attending any hockey games. A quadriplegic, he used to buy specially discounted tickets at $ 2 for a space for his wheelchair at the Forum. "It was a great deal," he acknowledges. At the Staples Center, the Kings no longer offer discounts for the disabled. The least-expensive general seats begin at $ 18.50, with McDonald's sponsoring a family section for which seats will cost $ 10. The Lakers and Clippers are also offering some seats at $ 10.

For Flynn, who needs a second seat for his aide, the price is prohibitive. "The people who are building this arena have more money than God," he says. "All I'm asking them is to give me a discount on some space."

Kevin G. McGuire, the Staples Center's consultant on the Americans With Disabilities Act, says the law "is about access and not special treatment." The Forum was built before the ADA took effect and was impractical for people with disabilities, and the $ 2 rate was a way for the Forum to make amends, says McGuire, who is disabled. At the Forum, handicapped seating was behind the baskets or hockey goals. At the Staples Center, wheelchair-accessible seating is available from many vantage points on all levels.

Jim Baral, who has been supporting the Lakers for 18 years, questions the team's loyalty to its longtime fans because, in his view, the assignment of seats to season ticket-holders wasn't done fairly. Baral was paying $ 31 per game per seat at the Forum, and although the Staples Center is offering seats at that price, they are located well above the luxury suites and are not equivalent, he says. But he applauds the stadium's location, which he believes will invigorate downtown's night life and attract ancillary businesses.

Despite such concerns—and perhaps verifying some of them—one group of fans remains eager to attend games at the new arena regardless of its location and potential traffic, parking and other problems. Among the regulars at King, Laker or Clipper games will be show-biz types Jack Nicholson, James L. Brooks, Dyan Cannon, Jim Carrey, Billy Crystal, Andy Garcia, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Penny Marshall, Michael Ovitz, Pat Sajak and Denzel Washington.

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