Can Sanity Return to Coliseum?

Perhaps now the dispute between the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and the Los Angeles Raiders can end and football fans can get back to the serious issues at hand--like quarterbacks and season tickets. Last week the commission appointed a two-member subcommittee to take a fresh look at the hotly disputed seating renovation plan that helped lure the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982.

The problem stems from the original negotiations between the Coliseum Commission and Al Davis, owner of the Raiders. As part of the agreement the commission, under former president William Robertson, and the Raiders decided to modernize the Coliseum by renovating the existing seating. The commission agreed to add retractable seating over the Olympic track in order to give fans a closer view of the game. And the Raiders agreed to build luxury boxes. Both projects were set for the 1987-88 football season. The costs were to be shared. The mistake that Davis apparently made was in not obtaining a written agreement.

Now the current commission president, Alexander Haagen, denies that there had been a specific renovation agreement, and says that there is neither the time nor the money to implement such a plan for the 1987-88 football season.

In the meantime, 1,700 prime seats have been ripped out of the Coliseum in preparation for the luxury boxes, and the Raiders have stopped further construction until the commission agrees to begin work on the retractable seating. As the construction has stopped, so have the negotiations--to the point where the Raiders may be looking for a new home. Although the team has made no official statement, the nearby communities of Inglewood, Pomona and Irwindale have been mentioned as possible sites for a move by the Raiders.

Commission members Richard Riordan and Fred Riedman will now take over Haagen's negotiations with the Raiders' Davis. And the two commissioners will be armed with $15 million to implement a renovated seating plan. It is hoped that new negotiations can restore sanity to both sides.

The Coliseum is a landmark of Los Angeles athletic history, and needs to be maintained as such. The renovation cost for the new seating will not be a taxpayer expense, but will be financed from damages that the commission received from the National Football League in last year's antitrust suit involving the Raiders' move to Los Angeles.

If the Raiders decided to leave the Coliseum, the cost of maintaining the facility without a major-league team would far exceed the current $15-million remodeling expense. Certainly this is a cost-effective measure befitting the 60-year-old Los Angeles Coliseum, which represents the city's proud Olympic history.

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