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Raiders Put Pressure on Coliseum Commission for Improvements

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Raiders have told negotiators for the Coliseum Commission that the team will not resume the suspended construction of 60 luxury boxes on the north rim of the stadium unless the commission agrees first to undertake an $8-million to $15-million reconfiguration of the Coliseum’s regular seating at the same time, it was learned Thursday.

The reconfiguration project--which would bring the Coliseum’s capacity down from its present 92,000 to about 80,000 but give most fans a closer view of football games played there--would have to be financed with public funds.

Under the reconfiguration plan, retractable seats would be installed at lower levels of the stadium that could be pushed out toward the field or withdrawn, depending on whether the Olympic running track was being used. During football games, the seats would cover the track, and spectators would be right on top of the action.

The Raiders, insisting that Mayor Tom Bradley and others who negotiated the deal that brought them here from Oakland agreed to such a refurbishment, have been trying since Feb. 18 to link their own investment in the luxury boxes with the publicly financed refurbishment, according to sources on both sides of the dispute.

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But the new Coliseum Commission president, Alexander Haagen, said Thursday that it is “improper” for the Raiders to try to link the two projects.

And, Haagen added: “I’m not sure what commitments were made, or if they were made. . . . I have not been assured that such commitments were ever made, certainly not in writing or through any act of the commission in writing.”

Bradley’s press secretary, Ali Webb, after checking with the mayor, said Bradley “feels strongly that there was an agreement that the Coliseum Commission would finance refurbishment.” But, Webb added, the mayor also recalls that the term refurbishment “was never defined.”

Although both sides said Thursday that they believe the dispute will be amicably resolved, the positions have hardened since last week when the Raiders ordered their contractors to cease construction on the luxury boxes, just three weeks after work had started.

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The work that was done left a gaping hole of about 1,700 removed regular seats at the top of the north side of the stadium. One Coliseum aide, who asked not to be identified, said Wednesday that it would cost $500,000 to $1 million to restore the stadium to its previous state if the boxes do not now go ahead. He said the Raider contractors had also removed some light standards and drilled some large holes in the concrete.

Initially, the Raiders seemed to be pressing the Coliseum Commission only for a commitment that it eventually would undertake the refurbishment. It was suggested the commission could get money for the project from up to $21 million in damages it is expecting to receive from its lawsuit against the National Football League. The judgment is currently under appeal.

However, in later representations, the Raiders are said to have advised the commission to borrow the needed money and begin the refurbishment now.

In a series of private talks, commission negotiators responded with suggestions that a surcharge of 50 cents or $1 be added to Raider and USC tickets next year to help pay for the refurbishment.

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A Raider official, Irv Kaze, has said in recent days that both Bradley and William Robertson, the labor leader who was the lead negotiator of the Raider move from Oakland, had promised verbally as far back as 1980 that the commission would undertake the refurbishments.

Robertson declined comment Thursday, explaining that he has been asked by Commission President Haagen not to comment.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a member of the commission who has long been critical of Robertson and the entire Raider deal, said he doubts, now that the commission has a number of new members, that a majority will honor any purely verbal agreements that Robertson or others have entered into.

“Verbal agreements have been made,” Schabarum said. “But there has never been a commitment by the commission as a whole. Do we follow Robertson now? Fortunately, there has been a change in the makeup of the commission, so common sense and the makeup of the commission dictates.”

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The commission held a four-hour meeting behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss the matter, but reportedly came to no decisions other than to pursue further talks with the Raiders.

Bradley, who is not a member of the commission, and Robertson are said to feel that if the commission could formalize a commitment for the reconfiguration, perhaps in writing, the Raiders would agree to go ahead with the boxes now. The reconfiguration, under such a compromise, could wait until later, when funds are available.

But the problem, knowledgeable commission sources told The Times, is that Haagen has other plans for the $21-million judgment. If and when it is received, he is said to want to spend much of it on parking structures and at the neighboring Sports Arena. The sources said he presently commands a commission majority.


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