Deficit-ridden Los Angeles may break even on the bill for the cost of police and other public servants on duty for Michael Jackson's memorial service, even though the city asked the singer's fans to help defray the costs, an economist said Tuesday.
A Web site was posted Tuesday seeking donations to cover the costs, estimated at between $1.5 million and $4 million, according to Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The Web page reads: "Help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves." The site is linked to a PayPal account where donors can make tax- deductible contributions.
But Jack Kyser, founding economist of the Kyser Center for Economic Research of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, estimates the city could rake in $4 million from the event, thanks to the throng of media and other visitors who stayed at hotels, ate at restaurants and shopped in Los Angeles.
Kyser believes the city also got a major image boost because the memorial service went off without any major problems.
"This thing went off very smoothly," Kyser said. "I think you had some good exposure for downtown and for the entire city."
Thousands of police officers and other city workers were enlisted to provide security and logistical support for Jackson's private service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills and the public memorial at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Some city officials have expressed concern about the cost, given the city's estimated $530 million deficit.
Similar complaints followed the announcement that the National Basketball Association champion Los Angeles Lakers would hold a victory celebration at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last month. In the days before the event, much was made of its estimated $2 million cost, with critics grumbling that the city could not afford it.
The Lakers and AEG, which owns Staples Center, donated $1 million and private donors covered public costs. AEG, which also was the promoter for Jackson's now-canceled London shows, has not committed any money to cover the city's bill for the Jackson memorial.
Despite the police being out in full force — some 3,200 officers, according to the Los Angeles Times — large crowds never surfaced, apparently heeding city officials warning not to come downtown unless they had a ticket for the memorial service. Some people who worked downtown also stayed home, Kyser said.
Preliminary estimates on the crowd had ranged into the hundreds of thousands.
"This was an extraordinarily unique event," Szabo said. "The only thing certain about this event was uncertainty."
It wasn't the first time Angelenos took heed of such advice. Dire warnings of massive traffic jams led to just the opposite during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and a 1987 papal visit, which were marked by lighter-than-normal traffic.
The city may reap additional funds from the Jackson event, especially if he is buried in the Los Angeles area. Staples Inc. earned several years of value in its naming rights because of the exposure the Staples Center received, Kyser said.
"I think people now have a better idea of what is downtown Los Angeles," Kyser said.