USC-Coliseum deal could cripple 3 public museums, critics say

USC-Coliseum deal could cripple 3 public museums, critics say
Visitors fill the Samuel Oschin Pavilion to view the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center. As of March, more than 1 million people have visited the museum since the shuttle exhibit was opened. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Supporters of three public museums in Exposition Park say the institutions could be permanently harmed by provisions in a proposed lease that would turn over to USC control of the neighboring Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a chunk of state parking and the revenues they produce.

In a rare show of solidarity, board members for the fundraising arms of the California Science Center and California African American Museum warned at a public hearing Thursday night that the 98-year lease package would siphon significant money away from their programs, whose financing depends on parking proceeds.

USC, a private school, wants the state-owned parking for special events 25 days a year as part of its pending lease to run the Coliseum.

"The lease terms unfairly benefit a private institution and harm the low-income families in our diverse neighborhood," said a letter presented at the hearing by the foundation and governing boards of the African American Museum.


The Science Center's board, composed of nine appointees by the governor, could vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday. The pact was negotiated by two of the board members and USC. A second hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Science Center.

"What is the state going to do when the state cripples the business operations of these three museums?" said Susan Cole Hill, president of the African American Museum's foundation.

James Gilson, vice president of the fundraising arm of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said the leasing arrangement would allow USC to use museum parking for as many as 33 big events a year, including more than half the weekends, when the museums are busiest and parking is scarce.

"We do not want so many large events that people wanting to come to the museum [don't] come back, because on too many days, it's just a hassle," he said.

At the hearing, members of the Science Center's foundation displayed photos showing museum halls sitting empty on days that Coliseum events overwhelm Exposition Park.

State Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), who has written past legislation on Exposition Park, said state law prohibits the Science Center from giving away its parking revenues. If that happens, he said, "we'll go to court."

Amy Davis, a fifth-grade teacher at Century Park Elementary School in Inglewood, recalled how one of her students cried in excitement when he saw the space shuttle Endeavour fly above him on its way to the Science Center. She said the student later told her, "'I want to be an astronaut, but I never thought the dream could happen for me, because I'm a poor boy in the ghetto.'"

Davis said, "I do not want my students to enter the [museums] thinking that college is about tailgating and that we prize football over education."

But Science Center board member Irene Romero, who helped negotiate the proposal, said it would enable USC to renovate the Coliseum. The stadium has been reeling from a financial scandal and red ink, she said.

A number of USC backers also spoke in favor of the proposal.

"I've seen the Coliseum, it needs help," said Bertrand Perdomo-Ucles, a USC employee. "They don't have the finances … and South Los Angeles needs economic development. This is our chance to help."

Michael Adler, chairman of a USC athletics advisory board, said alumni would help the school pour at least $70 million into Coliseum renovations under the lease proposal. "Our alumni expect a world-class facility to match our world-class university," Adler said.


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