Dispute Stalls Renovation of Coliseum Seats

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Coliseum Commission Wednesday formally declared there will be no Coliseum seating reconfiguration this year, and it gave the Los Angeles Raiders just nine days to resume construction of 60 luxury suites on the stadium's north rim.

But even before the commission announced its actions, taken in closed-door session, the Raiders football club made it clear it has no intention of proceeding with the suites in 1987.

A team spokesman said the suites are "totally" linked to the seating reconfiguration and that one cannot go forward without the other. Meanwhile, the Raiders' contractor on the suites announced that he had already begun to pull out his construction equipment.

Wednesday's rapid-fire pronouncements made it clear that the plan to renovate the 64-year-old Coliseum is dead for this year. The proposal involves putting $9 million in retractable seats over the Olympic track and lower stadium levels to get football fans closer to the action, and building $8 million in luxury suites for corporations and wealthy fans.

This leaves the commission faced with having to restore more than 1,700 seats and two batteries of lights torn out in February when the Raiders began construction of the suites. The club abruptly halted work 18 days later.

Estimate of Cost

Coliseum officials, who say the work will be done in a timely fashion, estimate that it will cost $463,000 to replace the seats and lights, and say the Raiders will be billed for the expense.

Although one of the resolutions adopted by the commission called for making plans to cooperate on the reconfiguration in 1988, the immediate prospect appeared to be a bitter dispute between the commission majority and the Raiders, and possibly a lawsuit by the Raiders.

There also has been speculation, unconfirmed by the Raiders, that the situation might cause the team to move to another city or to another location in the Los Angeles area.

"They've obstructed the entire (Coliseum renovation) project," Raider senior administrator Irv Kaze said of the commission. "They have repudiated all of their oral and written agreements made with the Raiders. We question their credibility."

Team's Obligation Cited

Commission President Alexander Haagen said the Raiders have an obligation to do the suite work. He added that while the commission did its best to proceed with the reconfiguration, there was neither financing nor sufficient time to do the work by Aug. 15, when the Raiders football season starts.

Under the original plan, the Raiders were to pay for the suites and the commission was to pay for the reconfiguration. Haagen Wednesday described the Coliseum as "insolvent." "I hope there's no litigation," Haagen said, after announcing the day's actions.

But USC Athletic Director Mike McGee, representing the stadium's other major football tenant, said he expects Raiders owner Al Davis to sue the commission, at least for the $1.2 million Davis contends already was spent on the initial stages of suite construction, and possibly for much more, to cover losses from revenues he would have received had the suites been built.

There were indications Wednesday that some of the language of the commission's resolutions reflected advice from its lawyers as to how to best position itself to defend against a Raider lawsuit.

Commissioner Bill Robertson, who negotiated the deal that brought the Raiders to the stadium from Oakland in 1982, said after the meeting that this was "obviously" the case. Robertson, the only member to vote against the resolutions, described them as "non-productive."

Commission's Viewpoint

In one of them, the commission gives conditional approval to plans for the Raiders' suites. A second says the commission will send the Raiders a written request to complete construction of the luxury suites in time for this year's football season "to satisfy the Raiders' legal obligations under the contract, promote the public good, and further the mutual interests of both parties."

One commission official, who declined to be identified, said such language was designed to allow its attorneys to argue later in court--if it came to that--that the commission had done everything it could to encourage the Raiders to go ahead with the suites.

But neither Haagen nor commission attorney Donovan Main could explain what legal obligations the Raiders had to proceed with the suites now. Main said the contract that brought the Raiders to the Coliseum specified that the football club would receive $6.7 million on the condition that it construct the suites. But Main conceded that no time was set for building them.

Davis has insisted, with support from Robertson and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, that he was promised orally when he moved the team that the commission would renovate the stadium, putting in new seating that would bring fans closer to the action.

Haagen first said he could find no proof of such a commitment, but he later conceded that Davis might be "totally right" when he said it had been made.

Pressure From Bradley

By that time, however, the commission president, a shopping center developer with close ties to Bradley and Los Angeles County supervisors, was insisting that no reconfiguration could go forward this year. Under pressure from Bradley, he signed a letter of intent April 1 to go ahead with the reconfiguration this year, but just six days later, he informed Bradley it was too late to do it after all.

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