Inglewood Gets New Image as Super Bowl Lands at SoFi Stadium

In his 1995 classic, California Love, Tupac Shakur briefly described the city of Inglewood as “always up to no good.”

But the late rap legend likely wouldn’t recognize the Inglewood of today. Gone is the stigma of a city routinely avoided and oft-maligned — sometimes erroneously — for high crime, poverty and unemployment. Instead, steadily falling crime rates, trendy new housing opportunities and a sparkling global entertainment hub at Hollywood Park are quickly turning Inglewood into the place to see and be seen.  

On February 13 the crown jewel of that entertainment complex and Inglewood’s resurgence, HKS-designed SoFi Stadium, will be on display to the world when the stadium hosts Super Bowl LVI.

“We had a brand of a city that nobody wanted to come to. When asked where they lived, people who lived in Inglewood would say, ‘I live next to Westchester, or south of Culver City,’” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said in an interview. “And now when you ask them where they live, they say, ‘I live in Inglewood, California.’”

The climb back to being one of California’s leading communities has been a long one. Incorporated in 1908, Inglewood was America’s fastest growing city from 1920 to 1925, when it became the Chinchilla capital of the world. Decades later, the city gained prominence when The Forum was built there in the 1960s to house the Los Angeles Lakers and later, the Los Angeles Kings.

The Great Western Forum in Inglewood, 1989. (Credit: Rick Stewart/ALLSPORT)

But during the late 1970s, 80s and 90s, the city fell on lean times as crime and unemployment spiked to worrisome levels, putting a serious dent in the city’s image. The challenges mounted after the Forum closed in 1999 when the Lakers and Kings bolted for the Staples Center (now Arena) in downtown Los Angeles. The loss of revenue was devastating to Inglewood and the closure of 75-year-old Hollywood Racetrack in 2012 didn’t help.

But in his 2020 State of the City address — delivered from inside SoFi Stadium — Butts noted that overall crime in the city dropped by 73 percent from 1978 to 2019. The city’s alarming unemployment rate also began to fall, he said.

Much of that decline was aided by Los Angeles Rams owner/chairman, E. Stanley Kroenke’s decision to build SoFi Stadium at the site of the former racetrack to serve as the home of both the Rams and Chargers. More than 1,200 Inglewood residents worked on the project, Butts said, with more than $19 million paid to people who worked in the city. 

‘SoFi Stadium is Beautiful’

The stadium itself — the largest in the National Football League at 3.1 million square feet — was designed by HKS as the world’s first true indoor-outdoor arena to take advantage of the soothing Pacific Ocean breezes and showcase the diverse Southern California environment.

The Inglewood mayor described his first visit to SoFi Stadium as “the metaphorical equivalent of walking into the inside of a video game” with its Infinity Screen by Samsung dual-sided video board that immerses fans into the action on the field, and ocean breezes that ventilate the indoor-outdoor space.

“It was not real,” he said. “It’s the most magnificent stadium in the world, and it’s in the city that’s working on becoming the most magnificent city in the world.”

SoFi Stadium puts Inglewood on the map as the home of the largest stadium in the National Football League at 3.1 million square feet.

In addition to the 70,000-seat stadium, which opened in 2020, the Hollywood Park mixed-used development also includes the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater; the 2.5-acre American Airlines Plaza; a 6-acre lake; 25 acres of public space; as well as retail, residential and office space.

And in addition to Super Bowl LVI, SoFi Stadium will be the site of the 2023 College Football Playoff Championship Game and the Opening Ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

“SoFi Stadium is beautiful,” said Terry Dulan, owner of Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, a Los Angeles-area institution with three locations, including one in Inglewood. “What SoFi (Stadium) has done is help reignite this whole area with beautiful architecture, and I love the space.”

So does fellow Inglewood business owner, Jasmine Summer Ohtman, co-owner of Orleans & York sandwich shop. Ohtman said that Orleans & York is the only local business with space inside SoFi Stadium, which Ohtman says gives her goose bumps whenever she’s there, even when it’s empty.

“It’s definitely driving in new business and new customers,” Ohtman said of the stadium’s impact on Inglewood. “Imagine having a stadium that’s the most talked about stadium in the world in your back yard. It’s amazing.”

Antoinette Davis of Inglewood has a dual interest in SoFi Stadium. Not only has she been a resident of the city for 26 years, but she also works at the stadium.

“Before, Inglewood would be a place that a lot of people would be scared to come to because when you heard the name Inglewood, you thought it was the hood,” Davis said. “When SoFi (Stadium) started, new businesses started opening up, high-rise buildings are being built. Once SoFi (Stadium) came, everything completely changed. Now everyone is trying to get into Inglewood.”

Left: Terry Dulan, Owner of Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen; Right: Jasmine Summer, Co-owner Orleans & York Deli

‘We’re Different Now’

Butts was born and raised a mile from Inglewood. He moved to the city in 1972 and was a longtime member of the police department, serving as deputy police chief at one point.

Despite being the home of the Lakers and Kings, and hosting patrons of the Airport Park Hotel and a racetrack that attracted thousands of people weekly, the mayor said Inglewood wasn’t historically considered a destination city. It was an entertainment city that people drove to and left immediately after an event.

“We’re different now,” he said.

Football fans attending games at SoFi Stadium tend to arrive early to Inglewood or leave late to avoid heavy traffic, which provides a big boost to Inglewood businesses.

Indeed, SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park are at the forefront of Inglewood’s economic and cultural renaissance. In his 2020 State of the City address — delivered from inside SoFi Stadium — Butts ticked off a litany of new developments opening or planned in the city including a $23 million senior center; a new Hilton-brand hotel; the NFL Network relocating from Culver City; and a LA Philharmonic Youth Orchestra site.

Los Angeles Chargers Owner/Chairman Dean Spanos, Los Angeles Rams Owner/Chairman Stan Kroenke and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. attend SoFi Stadium’s ribbon-cutting event on September 8, 2020 in Inglewood, California.

A Source of Pride

In addition, the Rams and Chargers soon won’t be the only professional sports franchises to call Inglewood home. In 2024, the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers will begin play inside their new $1.8 billion Intuit Dome located only a few blocks from SoFi Stadium.

“We’re a city that believes in the concept of self-determination,” Butts said. “We’re providing employment opportunities for our residents, providing recreational and cultural opportunities for our children. The only thing that’s changing, is everything.”

Even Butts serving as mayor is a continuing sign of extraordinary change in Inglewood. A century ago the city, which is 41 percent Black, was the Southern California regional headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and an all-white community where people of color were not allowed to purchase homes.

Now, it is an international entertainment and destination spot, with SoFi Stadium serving as the city’s unofficial welcome ambassador as millions of air passengers fly over it on their way into nearby Los Angeles International Airport. Real estate flyers for homes in surrounding cities now mention “Inglewood-adjacent” to capitalize on the added value of living near the area’s newest entertainment venues.

“Ultimately for the fans and the surrounding area, it’s a source of pride to have one of the nicest stadiums in the world,” said Dulan, a Rams season-ticket holder and lifelong Los Angeles-area resident, “It’s going to uplift the entire area with the amount revenue it’s going to bring, it’s going to improve the tax base. It’s very good for Inglewood. It’s a boon.”