When an NFL stadium moves next door: What SoFi neighbors can tell those near Arlington Park

Derrick Brown has been serving up po'boys, gumbo and catfish for two decades kitty-corner from the "Fabulous" Forum in Inglewood, California - where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wayne Gretzky shot balls and pucks in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and where Prince, the Eagles and other music acts have performed in more recent years.

Also across the street is the new $5.5 billion, 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium, which hosted a charity concert headlined by Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper over the weekend, and which looks to welcome even bigger crowds this fall for NFL games.

Brown was excited for what the massive redevelopment could mean for his business, even as the 2013 closure of Hollywood Park racetrack - on which the stadium complex was built - meant the thoroughbred horses he owns had to race elsewhere.

Then last month, his landlord emailed him an eviction notice. The corner site at Prairie Avenue and Kelso Street where Brown operates his Bourbon Street Fish & Grill - a converted former gas station - has been sold to a developer.

"I survived the pandemic. I was hoping for the Forum to rejuvenate back with concerts, and I was looking forward to the (Los Angeles) Rams season," Brown said. "So unfortunately, it didn't benefit me at all."

Business owners and residents at the foot of SoFi Stadium, the centerpiece of a still-to-come 298-acre retail, office, residential and entertainment complex, have been preparing for their neighborhood to be abuzz with activity on Sunday afternoons since Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced plans to build a new stadium there in 2015.

A sampling of Inglewood locals who talked to the Daily Herald expressed mixed feelings about the Hollywood Park redevelopment: It's good for property values and is helping revitalize the urban center on the edge of Los Angeles International Airport. But with it has come concern over construction, more traffic and higher rents, which are forcing out some residents across the city of 109,000.

Their experiences - of when a football stadium comes to a former horse racing track surrounded by a neighborhood - could shed some light on what might be if the Chicago Bears were to move to Arlington Park.

"Now with the new development around, I'm trying to seek a new location and I can't find anything," Brown said of hopes to reopen his restaurant in Inglewood. "I wanted to stay in the neighborhood near the stadium."

New construction in and around the Hollywood Park redevelopment continues in Inglewood, California. Residences, offices and a hotel are among the offerings planned. Kyle Grillot, for the Daily Herald

Certainly, Inglewood and Arlington Heights aren't the same type of community. One is more urban and populous, the other suburban. One is historically Black and Latino, the other predominantly white.

But Inglewood may be a test case for how a neighborhood deals with a large-scale redevelopment of an old racetrack in its backyard.

One similarity is that Louisville, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc. was the owner that sold Hollywood Park and is now selling Arlington Park. More parallels were drawn when the Bears announced in June they made an offer for the 326-acre racetrack property in Arlington Heights.

Churchill officials have said they're evaluating "numerous" proposals, but they haven't announced a winning bid yet.

Cydney Johnson, a Northwestern University sophomore from Inglewood, California, lives in a neighborhood next to the new SoFi Stadium. She says redevelopment of the old Hollywood Park site has brought construction headaches and traffic congestion to the area. Courtesy of Cydney Johnson

Cydney Johnson, 19, a sophomore majoring in international studies at Northwestern University, is back home in Inglewood for her summer internship in Los Angeles. Johnson, who can see SoFi Stadium from her bedroom window, moved with her mother and sister to a house in a gated community a couple of blocks north of Hollywood Park eight years ago, just after the racetrack closed.

Since that time, she says, they've dealt with a flurry of construction activity in the neighborhood. They've also experienced an uptick in traffic, especially during Thursday and Friday night concerts at the Forum, when Pincay Drive - the main thoroughfare between the Forum and SoFi that also leads to her neighborhood - is closed down.

Residents near the Forum and SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, have to show this parking placard to get to their homes when there are events that close down nearby streets. Courtesy of Cydney Johnson

Residents have to show a placard at checkpoints to get through, but Johnson says that doesn't always work.

Many of her neighbors are bracing for what the surrounding streets will look like on Sundays during the football season. SoFi isn't home only to Kroenke's Rams but also to the Los Angeles Chargers, which have a 20-year lease at SoFi. And still to come is Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer's 18,500-seat NBA basketball arena set to break ground this fall south of SoFi.

"My neighbor is a devout Christian who goes to church every day," Johnson said. "She's horrified she won't be able to go to church on Sunday."

Johnson said the value of her family's house has gone up since construction on the Hollywood Park redevelopment began. They've contemplated moving somewhere else and renting their house out, but they're staying put for now.

"The difference in whether people love or hate the new developments I think has a lot to do with age," Johnson said. "My age, people are happy with SoFi and the Forum, just because they might move away. But the older generation is definitely not as happy about it because this is where they plan to live the rest of their lives."

A rendering shows one of the retail-entertainment complexes planned for the redevelopment around SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, around the old Hollywood Park horse racing venue. Courtesy of Binyan Studios

Even though many homeowners are pleased to see their property values rise, they can't afford to buy elsewhere, said Janet Singleton, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker who has represented buyers and sellers in the Inglewood area for 30 years.

Home prices have increased since talk of the Rams' and Chargers' coming to town first surfaced. A 1,500-square-foot, 1940s-era "starter" home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms that once sold in the $500,000s can now fetch up to $800,000, Singleton said.

Buyers who have steady jobs and good down payments are competing with investors who have come into the area, she said.

Meanwhile, many longtime renters have been displaced because of higher rents, especially before the city approved rent control in 2019.

One-story, 1940s-era starter homes and palm trees line the residential blocks around SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, where property values have risen in recent years. Kyle Grillot, for the Daily Herald

"I cannot tell you the number of elderly people that called me that were being told they had to move out of their places, or the rents have gone up so high they could not afford to stay there," Singleton said. "Those are some of the downsides to the whole thing."

Many listings for homes and apartments boast of their proximity to the new stadium, such as the newly remodeled Stadium View Apartments on Prairie Avenue. An online ad touts not only the complex's location across the street from SoFi but also all the things to come, including shopping, restaurants, hotels, offices, a movie theater and luxury gym.

A studio apartment - complete with marble countertops and stainless steel appliances - goes for $1,595 a month, while a one-bedroom unit is $1,650.

A large residential building is under construction as part of redevelopment surrounding the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, around the former Hollywood Park horse racing venue. Submitted Photo

"It is nice to see a stadium as elaborate and as high-tech," Singleton said, who also noted the new 6,000-seat YouTube Theater is opening soon. "There's a lot to be said for that now because some of the homeowners around don't have to travel downtown. ... It's nice to have it in your community. I think that's a big plus. But you have to ask, at what cost to the residents?"

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