USC deal for Coliseum approved by state board

The newly approved lease gives USC millions of dollars worth of parking owned by the state museum as part of a deal that grants the private school control of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next century.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A state board approved a sharply debated deal Tuesday that grants USC control of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and nearly all of the revenues from the taxpayer-owned stadium for the next century.

The governing board of the California Science Center, the Coliseum’s landlord, voted 7 to 0 to adopt the basic terms for the lease agreement that extends to the private university most of the benefits of owning the historic venue without requiring the school to buy it.

The lease will become effective after the state Department of General Services and the California Natural Resources Agency approve a final document and the Science Center board ratifies it. The package could require Sacramento to reimburse two public museums next to the Coliseum for money they might lose to USC because the school will be permitted limited use of their parking lots at a lower price.


Under the lease, USC also has the option to tear down the neighboring Sports Arena and replace it with a soccer stadium or amphitheater. The school has talked with Major League Soccer about building a stadium on the site, possibly for Chivas USA.

Critics have labeled the overall agreement, which grew out of a corruption scandal at the Coliseum Commission, a giveaway to USC that fails to guarantee the public enough money.

Key opposition to the USC deal had come from trustees of the Science Center’s fundraising foundation, which is separate from the governing board. They said the museum, home of the space shuttle Endeavour, would be hurt by a provision that allows the school to take over Science Center parking for USC football games and other major events.

Parking receipts help fund free programs at the Science Center, the California African American Museum and the surrounding Exposition Park. A Department of Finance analysis released Tuesday said the lease could cost the museums and park $78,000 to $203,000 a year unless USC-managed events generate enough parking revenue to erase the shortfall.

DOCUMENT: Read the Department of Finance analysis

Before Tuesday’s vote, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration sent a letter to the museums promising to restore lost parking funds during the coming two years. Administration officials did not say where it would get that money.


DOCUMENT: Read the letter promising restoration of lost parking revenue

An earlier version of the 98-year lease gave USC the right to claim museum parking for 25 big events annually. That was reduced to nine or possibly 10 after fierce opposition by museum backers and others.

Foundation trustee Marvin Holen, who attacked the previous proposal as a “robbery,” said Tuesday’s agreement “achieved a reasonable balance” because of the state’s vow to cover parking revenue losses and offer other protections for the museums.

“We will be OK,” Holen said.

Foundation Chairman Tom Soto said relinquishing any parking and its revenues to USC was “not something we would have wanted and promoted,” but the organization decided “it was in our best interest to find common ground” with the school.

DOCUMENT: Read the Science Center foundation’s requests on the USC deal

USC spokesman Thomas Sayles said the lease is “a win-win.… I think that we went from concern to collaboration to consensus.” He said he expected USC to take the helm of the Coliseum and Sports Arena this summer.

Science Center board member Robert Stein, who opposed the lease but was out of the country for Tuesday’s vote, said in a telephone interview that the parking arrangement was still lacking because it “is committing taxpayer dollars to make up any shortfall that SC, a private institution, would create.”

The lease requires USC to spend at least $70 million on upgrades to the 90-year-old stadium during the first decade.

FULL COVERAGE: Coliseum under scrutiny

The school also will pick up the Coliseum Commission’s $1 million yearly rent payment to the state, an amount that will increase to $1.3 million in 2016 and be adjusted afterward for inflation. The rent payments go to the Science Center.

USC must pay the state 5% of the proceeds from the sale of naming rights to the Coliseum.

The school will retain all ticket and concession revenues from football games and other Coliseum events — and as much as 95% of the naming rights and other advertising proceeds from the properties, which together could sell for $4 million to $6 million a year, the sports economists say.

After 20 years, the university could cancel the Coliseum lease by giving notice, but the government could end it by proving only that the school violated its terms. Taxpayers would be liable if an earthquake levels the stadium or other catastrophes strike.

In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and Anna Caballero, secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency that oversees the Science Center board, said the state’s existing agreement with the commission “no longer worked.”

“We look forward to a seamless transition as the documents are finalized and believe this is a major step towards restoring this state and federal landmark to what it once was,” the statement said.