USC moves closer to getting control of L.A. Memorial Coliseum

USC's marching band performs at the the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 9, 2000.
(Kirk McCoy / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

The scandal-tainted Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission took an important step Wednesday toward turning over day-to-day control of the historic venue to USC.

USC wants near total operational control of the taxpayer-owned facility in return for guaranteeing that the Trojan football team would remain at the stadium for generations. The school is expected to pour tens of millions of dollars into upgrading the 88-year-old facility southwest of downtown Los Angeles. It has long sought improvements that the cash-strapped Coliseum can’t afford.

“We’re excited to move forward,” Kristina Raspe, USC’s associate senior vice president for real estate, said after the meeting.

Coliseum Commission President David Israel said in a statement that the commission and USC “have made great progress towards assuring the Coliseum will remain a vital and vibrant asset.”

Israel said commissioners instructed their lawyers “to work with USC officials to achieve a full resolution on all deal points, and prepare a modified lease” to be voted on early next year.

The proposed terms of the deal are secret, although Israel said they will be made public one week before a public vote.

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, also a Coliseum commissioner, has opposed the deal with USC, saying his colleagues are underselling the venue and adjacent Sports Arena, essentially giving it to a private entity.

“You’re giving away two public facilities that in my judgment have significant dollar value and are priceless to what they represent to the community,” Parks said.

“If we truly believe this is the way to go, why didn’t we go out for a request for proposal and get the highest bidder?” Parks asked. The city sought competing proposals to manage the Los Angeles Zoo, he noted.

An official with a San Diego-based company, U.S. Capital LLC, told commissioners the firm wanted a chance to bid on a contract to manage the stadium.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a Coliseum commission member, praised the proposed lease. “We’re at a crossroads. The Coliseum is either going to be a functioning viable sports venue, or it’s going to be a museum piece,” Yaroslavsky said. “The road to the 21st century Coliseum as a functioning sports venue goes through USC.”

Following The Times’ coverage of a growing financial scandal this year at the Coliseum, commissioners acknowledged in June that the venue would be forced to break a promise made to USC under the current lease signed three years ago. That agreement called for close to $60 million in improvements.

For years, USC has been unhappy with the condition of the Coliseum, which lost its last NFL team, the Raiders, in the 1990s. The locker rooms are worn and damaged by water leaks; the plumbing is antiquated. There are too few restrooms, and aging concession areas lack basic equipment, including cash registers and ice machines.