Coliseum Commission prepares to give USC control of stadium
The university would fund renovations and take over staffing, day-to-day operations and event scheduling. Commissioners would have a limited oversight role and get free tickets to USC games.
USC would receive lucrative naming and advertising rights to the Coliseum. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / March 22, 2012)
The deal would essentially end the Coliseum Commission's stewardship of the 88-year-old landmark — built as a memorial to World War I veterans — whose mismanagement led to a sweeping criminal indictment of key executives last month.
USC would be responsible for staffing, day-to-day operations and event scheduling, among other duties. The government panel, composed of state, county and city appointees, would perform only a limited oversight role.
The confidential lease draft, which The Times obtained, states that the school would receive lucrative naming and advertising rights to the Coliseum. USC could restrict use of the stadium for "public interest" events, such as a community Fourth of July celebration, to eight per year.
DOCUMENT: READ THE CONFIDENTIAL LEASE DRAFT
The commission has also proposed including its parking lot, its roadside sign on the 110 Freeway and even the companion Sports Arena in the package.
USC would have the options to operate the Sports Arena, hand it back to the panel if the structure became a burden or demolish it to build something like a soccer stadium.
In return, USC would assume about $1 million in annual rent payments that the Coliseum makes to the state, which owns the land. It would maintain the property and complete a host of renovations that would be funded in part with stadium revenues. School officials say the improvements would cost about $70 million.
USC would also pick up costs of a new sound system, video board and some commission administrative tasks.
The commission has conducted the lease negotiations with USC in secrecy and has not released a draft of the agreement. The panel takes up the matter at its monthly meeting Wednesday. A final vote could come next month.
Commissioners who favor the lease have said the public would win because the agreement calls on USC to refurbish the Coliseum and ensures the stadium's future as home to the school's Trojan football team. "Without this kind of deal, the Coliseum is going to be a museum piece," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a commissioner.
In a statement Tuesday, Thomas Sayles, senior vice president for University Relations at USC, said: "Our goal is to make the Coliseum a proud landmark and gathering place for all Angelenos. We support public disclosure and discussion of all lease terms before any deal is approved."
Some outside experts are dubious about the proposal, labeling it extraordinary. They say USC would reap most of the benefit of the stadium upgrades that represent the school's main contribution to the agreement.
"I don't know of any situation that is like this, where a public stadium is turned over to a private school," said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Massachusetts. "It's perplexing. It seems that the Coliseum could have done a lot better bargaining job."
On the other hand, Zimbalist said, "The alternative is to have an incompetent commission run this thing."
The commissioners have negotiated a few sweeteners for themselves. They would get the equivalent of 10 free tickets each to every Trojan contest at the stadium, plus premium parking, as well as access to a VIP hospitality area on game days.
And USC would try to score the commissioners free tickets for any NFL games played at the Coliseum. A commission attorney said the gift of tickets follows a longtime policy that says panel members need to monitor stadium operations.
Last month, criminal charges were filed against three former Coliseum managers, two prominent rave concert promoters and a stadium janitorial contractor. The district attorney's investigation into a rash of alleged bribery, kickbacks and conflicts of interest grew out of Times reports on financial irregularities at the stadium.
Former Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch has pleaded guilty in an agreement to avoid a possible prison sentence. Awaiting trial are former events manager Todd DeStefano, ex-technology manager Leopold Caudillo Jr., Insomniac Inc. Chief Executive Pasquale Rotella and Go Ventures Inc. head Reza Gerami. All have pleaded not guilty.