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Coliseum panel mulls options

Times Staff Writer

The commission in charge of the Memorial Coliseum seems at a crossroads: should it keep chasing its NFL dream, or sign a long-term deal with USC?

That will be the focus of today’s monthly meeting, its last before summer break. Clearly, there are divergent opinions on the nine-member commission, with some not ready to give up on pro football returning, and others fed up with the flirtations that have dragged on since the Raiders left after the 1994 season.

“The NFL’s had a free option on the Coliseum for at least the last 10 years,” said David Israel, vice president of the commission. “All long-term decisions that have been made at the Coliseum have been made with an eye on an NFL team playing there.... We have to accept some realities.”

That’s not the way Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks sees it. He’s the commission’s president who regularly attends the annual NFL owners meetings to gather information after closed-door sessions.

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While Parks agrees the Coliseum is in need of repairs and improvements, ones that USC could provide if it had a long-term deal, he’s not in favor of closing NFL loopholes in an agreement.

“I do not believe it would be in the best interests of the residents I represent, nor the city, to foreclose on a potential multibillion-dollar corporation coming into the city of Los Angeles,” Parks said.

Bill Chadwick, a state appointee to the commission, also says there is room to strike a deal with USC while leaving the door cracked for the NFL.

“It’s not very intelligent to take positions that preclude you from entering into economically profitable enterprises in the future,” he said. “You try not to make irrevocable decisions.... We want this to be a win-win.”

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Todd Dickey, USC senior vice president for administration, said talks between the school and the commission are “moving along” but declined to provide details. However, sources familiar with the negotiations said the school was not amenable to leaving an opening for the NFL in a long-term agreement.

This spring, for the first time in several years, the subject of the league returning to the Los Angeles area wasn’t even broached by team owners at their annual March or May meetings.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has said repeatedly the league will not pursue a return to the Southland until it finds a favorable stadium deal -- and years of proposals have yet to produce one.

In recent years, USC has had a series of mostly one- and two-year leases with the commission. The school is in the final year of a two-year Coliseum lease, although its rent for football games this fall has yet to be determined.

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Concurrently, the commission is negotiating a new lease with the state after the 48-year lease expired in December 2005. That process has been ongoing for a decade, with starts and stops because of intermittent NFL interest.

Last fall, after another lull in the NFL talks, Chadwick raised the possibility of a “master-lease agreement” that would allow USC to take control of the stadium from the commission.

The latest signals from the NFL are mixed. Whereas some league executives and team owners have quietly expressed doubts about ever reaching an agreement with the Coliseum, the official word from the NFL is more promising.

Neil Glat, the NFL’s executive vice president for strategic planning, said the league’s interest in the Coliseum is “still viable” and that “it doesn’t make sense for them to foreclose that opportunity as part of a deal with USC.”

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Glat said the league also has not ruled out building a venue in the Angel Stadium parking lot but conceded “a deal for a team to play at [either of] those sites still has some challenges that we need to work through before we can move forward.”

Israel is looking for a more straightforward gesture from the NFL.

“Write a check, pal,” he said. “We have an obligation to the public to ensure that the Coliseum is a viable building for generations to come.... The NFL’s whole game is to leverage cities against each other and try to keep as many options as possible. I’d be surprised if they didn’t say we were a viable option.

“I’m tired of the Coliseum being held hostage by the NFL.”

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sam.farmer@latimes.com


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