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Details Emerge Of USC's New Pact For L.A. Coliseum

Paresh Dave |
January 11, 2012 | 6:41 p.m. PST


Updated at 8:54 p.m. with comment from USC.

USC would begin to fund a much-needed renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum within the next two years, replacing exit signs, installing refrigerators and upgrading locker rooms, according to tentative details of an amended lease released Wednesday.

The Coliseum is so closely aligned with the USC brand that the university could not bear to see the stadium lose its luster or not be taken full advantage of.

The Coliseum Commission, the government body that controls the facility, is nearly broke and under investigation by state and local authorities for financial malfeasance. So the two parties have been working for months to give the university nearly complete power to manage the Coliseum and the adjacent Sports Arena.

The drama began last March, days after John Sandbrook took over as interim general manager of the Coliseum after the financial scandal forced the previous general manager to resign. At a lunchtime meeting with USC Senior Vice President Todd Dickey, Sandbrook learned he had a couple of months to produce a business plan explaining how the commission would pay for nearly $60 million in upgrades to the Coliseum. If no business plan arrived, USC would go from tenant to landlord.

Commission officials in 2006 and 2007 believed they pay for upgrades by selling the naming rights to the Coliseum for as much as $10 million a year. USC officials thought the commission could fetch only a third of that, but let the unrealistic projections stand. After the economy crashed, USC got knocked with sanctions and the commission's public stature crumbled, the chances of consummating a deal had disappeared. Little work had been done on figuring out how to pay for a renovation.

All but one of the Coliseum's nine commissioners have said letting USC take control and fund construction by itself is the best option at this point. An agreement won't be finalized until at least early spring.

The goal of both parties is to ensure that through a modified lease agreement, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will continue to be a long-term publicly-owned asset for the neighborhood, the city and the region,” a joint statement released Wednesday read.

Kristina Raspe, USC's vice president of real estate, said improvements to the Coliseum would began to take shape before the 2013 season, but that the university hopes to introduce some minor changes for this year's season.

Among the tentative provisions of the amended lease:

--USC would hold the keys to the Coliseum and Sports Arena through 2032, but could extend the deal as far as 2054.

--USC would agree to operate the Sports Arena through at least April 2014. But hinting that the school would rather not deal with the arena, USC can shut down the arena after 2014 and the commission can take back control of it if it desires. Alternatively, USC could tear down the arena and replace it with a soccer stadium, training facility or even an amphitheater.

--USC will gain control of the large Los Angeles Coliseum marquee alongside the 110 freeway.

--USC would take over the payments for the video board that was installed last season and pay an annual rent to fund ongoing operations of the commission. Some of the construction could be funded by a ticket surcharge. Raspe said USC will be paying more under the modified lease compared to its original lease since USC will assume responsibility for the costs of all improvements, repair, maintenance and operations.

--USC would have until the end of 2021 to finish a long list of improvements. The Coliseum celebrates its 100th birthday in 2022. As of December, the university had no estimate of how much all the fixes might cost. In 2007, USC was willing to invest $100 million to renovate the stadium.

--USC can sell the naming rights to the stadium or parts of the stadium. Or the university can simply adopt an honorary name, such as the Max Nikias Memorial Coliseum, as long as "Memorial Coliseum" remains a part of any name.

--USC would make the stadium available to no more than one NFL team, which would be allowed to play as many as four seasons at the Coliseum. The Coliseum also would be allowed to play host to the 2016 Super Bowl and the 2015 Special Olympics.

--Outside of the football season, the commission can reserve eight dates to hold public events at the Coliseum that are not intended to generate revenue for the commission or USC.

--Commission employees would become USC employees through at least the end of 2012.

--Any large-scale changes to the look or capacity of the Coliseum would require commission approval.

A year ago, USC was in talks with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration about buying the land underneath the stadium, the arena and five of six surrounding parking lots. The state had offered the land to USC for $54 million to help narrow a budget gap and USC had a little reason not to consider the offer. But Gov. Jerry Brown temporarily halted the idea after he was inaugurated.

USC remains interested in completing a deal to buy the parking lots or even most of Exposition Park, though discussions have not been renewed recently.

An attorney for a small San Diego-based sports and event management company wrote to the commission on Tuesday, saying USC should not be given control without a public bidding process that gives outsiders a chance.

"We are prepared to take any and all necessary actions to protect the public interests if the Commission insists on continuing to disregard the State and community interests in the facility," attorney Theodore Griswold wrote on behalf of U.S. Capital. On its website, the company has a basic animation that shows a renovated Coliseum looking more like its namesake in Rome.

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